Reading Champions in prisons: a case study HMP Maghaberry, N Ireland

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This case study is taken from the reading events and groups section of Reading Champions. Read more case studies in this section

Prison librarian David Chapman uses the Reading Champions project to reward and inspire both inmates and officers who are involved in one of many literacy and reading schemes available.

Principal Officer Glenn Hutton and Senior Officer John Anderson received Reading Champions certificates from the National Literacy Trust for their role in the ground-breaking Toe by Toe project. The project teaches basic reading skills one step at a time using a special phonetic handbook. The pair, who have acted as mentors to more than 30 inmates with poor literacy skills, have now begun recruiting prisoners to help take the scheme forward. PO Hutton said he was delighted to become involved: "Up to 70% of prisoners have literacy and numeracy problems and this was an ideal opportunity for one to one tuition."

So Anderson said he found the work extremely rewarding: "One man I mentored last year couldn't write a word and four weeks later he had written a card to his newborn child. The sense of pride and achievement he got being able to do that was incredible". At present three officers and three inmates act as mentors but other prisoners are keen to become involved.

Meanwhile, two inmates also received Reading Champions certificates for taking part in the Book and Tape (BAT) Club run by the prison library. The club enables prisoners to make tape recordings of books for their children to listen to at home. The idea behind the scheme is to help maintain the bond between inmates and their families. A total of 15 inmates have taken part in the BAT scheme, according to David Chapman, who runs the prison library. "It has really taken off in the last two to three months. Children can send back a recording on tape, which is really appreciated by the fathers."

One of the prisoners said the scheme meant that his three children could hear their dad's voice at home. "It is a way of letting them hear my voice and entertaining them for an hour whenever I'm not even with them. Any contact I can have with my family is a real bonus. "They know that I'm doing something for them. My physical presence isn't in the house but in a way I'm there for a short time."

The second inmate was keen to keep in contact with his young son, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. "It keeps me in his mind in my absence and anything that keeps me in contact with my family is extremely valuable," he said.

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