Monday, February 2, 2015

Jails, Reading & Second Chances

Steve Cohen wrote an article for Forbes in December of 2010 that has stuck out as one of the more interesting articles written on Literacy in America. What is striking about the article is how it grabs the reader in with the headlines.  $5 for A Children's Book or $47,000 for a Jail Cell your choice.  It's a headline that can't be ignored or forgotten.    In Mr. Cohen's article, the facts are laid out on the harsh reality of what low reading skills leads to in our high competitive society.  Although many believe  that states use low reading scores as an indicator to how many beds they will need to fill up prison is a urban legend, there is some truth to that formula.   As it was pointed out in last week's post,  low reading skills are closely tied with school drop out rates,  poverty and crime.

Take this startling statistic from Cohen's article,  60% of America’s prison inmates are illiterate. That number was from 2010.  The number have not changed much according to the website Literacy Project Foundation, which maintains 3 out of 5  incarcerated adults  can not read.   So if nothing has changed, the problem of illiteracy is still not addressed to the point of finding the right solution for the present time.   Legislating that America's young children should have a reading comprehension of third grade in order to advance to fourth grade is not a solution for those who are incarcerated.  When these men and women are released from prison they are placed back into society with much baggage. As one can imagine, it can be very disheartening to be released from prison with little hope of a place to live, a place to work or  opportunity to make a valiant effort at a second chance in life.    What's the best way to give those who want to turn their life around the second chance?

Libraries in the correctional facilities are a good place to start.   According to 2011 report  "State of Recidivism:  The Revolving Door of American's Prisons.",  published by  The Pew Center on the State, it is noted that at least 95 percent of prisoners ultimately will be returning to their communities after incarceration.    This is an opportunity for libraries to provide services to these individual and help them find their "place" in society.   Reading programs such as Adult Literacy groups which are located in many major library systems,  train volunteer tutors to teach valuable reading skills to adults seeking assistance.  However, it takes courage to take that first step in asking for help or at times even knowing where to seek help.   That is why some public libraries are now providing library services at the correctional facilities.  It has been proven that teaching life skills, especially reading skills,  that the re-incarceration numbers fall.  That is to say, that some of  incarcerated adult who took advantage of he reading skills tutoring did not become repeat offenders and return to the correctional facilities.  it actually proves that reading does give hope for a better future.

Back to Cohen's eye-catching headline:  $5 ver $47,000.  Cohen's point was that it would be ideal if as a society we'd spend $5 for a children's book to share in low income areas then to spend $47,000 on a jail cell where some of these children will end up as adults.  His point is well stated but for those who are stuck in the correctional system something has to be done today.  Why not check out what the Adult Literacy programs are doing in your neck of the woods?  If volunteering to be a tutor is not an option, monetary donations are always helpful as well as book donations.     It really does not take much to help spread the love of reading.  Quite frankly, if everyone read a little more, our society would be in a much better place.   Just a thought.

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