Prisoners take up reading challenge

Basildon Magistrates CourtPRISONERS at HMP & YOI Chelmsford are being given a unique opportunity to turn their lives around thanks to a Reading Agency initiative backed by Essex Libraries.

Reading Ahead, formerly known as the Six Book Challenge, offers offenders a chance to improve their reading skills through six books of their own choosing.

Inmates can choose from a wide selection of books in the prison library. A number of prisoners revealed it gave them their first opportunity to read a book cover to cover.

Hundreds of prisoners signed up for the initiative, with 104 men completing the course resulting in a silver award for the library at Her Majesty’s Prison and Youth Offenders Institute (HMP & YOI) Chelmsford.

One prisoner said: “Before coming to prison I had never read a book start to finish. It feels like I have actually accomplished something very positive.”

Others spoke of the life-changing effect the simple course had had on their lives.

One added: “It has totally helped me learn to read and slowly to improve my spelling and keep me busy rather than watching TV. I will carry on reading to get books from libraries when I get out of prison. It will help to change my life for long-term to improve my social skills.”

Library staff at Essex County Council worked in partnership with prison staff at HMP & YOI Chelmsford to encourage as many inmates as possible to sign up.

The challenge complements Adult Literacy classes within the prison in a bid to help prisoners develop key life skills, such as reading and writing, to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

Prisoners are encouraged to complete a reading diary with their thoughts and reviews during the challenge and receive a mini English dictionary on completion to help continue to improve their literacy skills.

Cllr David Finch, Leader of Essex County Council, said: “Prison is often seen as a punishment but it can be used as a force for good, offering inmates a chance to reflect on their past mistakes and learn new skills to help provide positive input into society on their release.

“It is great to see our library services reaching out into the community to help rehabilitate offenders and offer them a second chance.

“Reading and writing skills are often something we take for granted, but they can be critical when it comes to rebuilding a life. Skills learnt in prison can help inmates reconnect with family through letters home and apply for jobs once back in the community.”

The Reading Ahead challenge is not just restricted to prisons, with organisations across the country encouraged to get involved.

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