Prison reading project at risk

| 08/02/2009

(CNS): Local non-governmental organisation the Cayman Islands Reading Aides, which helps adults who have difficulties with literacy and numeracy, is in desperate need of volunteers in order to maintain some of its valuable programmes. While CIRA receives financial support for its material resources from Rotary, without volunteers the programme cannot function and there are particular concerns for the prison reading project where there is a desperate shortage of volunteers.

“CIRA is always in need of volunteers for a wide variety of community adult literacy programmes but we are particularly short of people to help keep the prison programme running,” said Michelle Pentney the co-ordinator of the prison project. (Pictured above working with Northward Inmates.) “We are the only people offering literacy classes to prisoners and we feel that helping those in the prison system tackle their literacy issues is probably one of the most important jobs we do.”

Pentney explained that she needs people who can spare a couple of hours to help on Monday evenings and on Wednesday afternoons to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community get their lives back on track. “It is always harder to find people willing to work with prisoners or those on parole but we need to help these people most of all. If we can give prisoners the tools they need to find gainful employment when they leave the system we are not only helping them but we are protecting the community from further crimes those individuals may commit if they are not offered alternatives.”

Governor Stuart Jack recently unveiled the new classroom block at the HMP Northward, which was built by the inmates, and noted how important education was to rehabilitation. “For rehabilitation to work, we will need the community to actively partner with government,” he said. “With this emphasis on rehabilitation, inmates are being helped to improve their attitudes and skills. The goal is to ease their re-entry into the mainstream.

That said some of the prisoners who have severe learning difficulties still only receive one class per week conducted by CIRA, and while Pentney has introduced a programme, under  the tutor’s and her own direction, whereby inmates who are literate are helping those who are not, without more volunteers the project is at risk.

“If we are not there to help these prisoners there are no other opportunities for these prisoners to be helped and possibly turn their life around,” she said.

One of Pentney’s long standing volunteers told CNS that working with prisoners and those on parole is exceptionally rewarding. “These people really need our help most of all. The reason why many of them are incarcerated in the first place is because of their disability. If you can’t read it is almost impossible to hold down a well paying job,” she said. “Often, too, these people have been let down and failed by the system and the community so many times that when they see someone who comes to help for no other reason than to help they are exceptionally grateful. After all they are not used to kindness.”

Anyone who thinks they can help CIRA with the prison and related projects, please contact Michelle Pentney on 925 2624 or email:

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Given the increase in crime over the past few years, I for one support this intiative entirely.  I know that many prisoners are locked up for a very good reason, and who will never be rehabilitated but there are also some who have been caught in this situation through their own desperation.  It is these people who need the most help.  If this programme can help one prisoner stay away from the revolving prison door and make something of his life then it is time well spent and I admire anyone who is willing to give up their time to help.