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Tuesday, November 3, 1998 Published at 10:24 GMT


Study links crime with literacy skills

A pilot scheme to re-train dyslexics cut re-offending

Researchers have made a link with crime and dyslexia - suggesting that prisoners who receive help with literacy are less likely to re-offend.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Danny Shaw: "Researchers say results are extraordinary"
A study carried out by probation officers of 150 inmates in London prisons found that more than half of them suffered from dyslexia.

As a result, a pilot scheme was set up to re-educate 50 prisoners.

In the first two years following the so-called Dyspel Project only five inmates had re-offended. Thirteen went to college and four had found work.

Its co-founder Wally Morgan, a probation officer with the Inner London Probation Service, said initial results showed that it had cut reconviction rates down to 10%.

The study will be presented at a conference on Tuesday.

'Red herring'

But further research carried out by Cambridge University has cast doubt on the number of dyslexic prisoners and dismissed the issue of dyslexia as a "red herring".

Michael Rice, research student at the University of Cambridge's Institute of Criminology, said that after examining 323 prisoners, he found no evidence to suggest rates of dyslexia were higher among people in jail nor that people with dyslexia were more likely to turn to crime.

The Prison Reading Survey found levels of "functional literacy" inside jails reflected levels in the population at large.

Although prisoners' "alphabetic" skills were lower than average, they reflected the social background of prisoners, most of whom come from sections of the population with below average letter skills.

Mr Rice said there were lots of other reasons to explain poor reading skills - social deprivation, low motivation and problems at school, for example.

"Most of the people assessed in the Prison Reading survey were functionally literate. However, literacy levels need to be raised in society as a whole and that includes prisons," he said.

"The dyslexia issue is a red herring. The problem is both more widespread and more complex."

Confidence boosted

Mr Morgan said the prisoners' problems had corresponded to accepted definitions of dyslexia. After years of being labelled stupid at school, once the prisoners knew they had a specific literacy problem they felt more confident .

But he said he believed the most important issue was not naming the problem, but tackling it. "We think the results are significant. Of the people who've gone through the programme, one in three has gone on to higher education. That's remarkable," he said.

"I believe by taking a different approach, we are reaching people that our previous education system wasn't reaching and we've been able to give people more opportunity to live a life without offending."

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