Prisoners spend day focusing on ‘sentences’

| 27/09/2011

(CNS): Inmates at HMP Northward were focusing on a different kind of sentence on Friday when they spent the day involved in a reading marathon. Government officials, volunteers from Cayman Islands reading aides and other guests joined the prisoners in a day celebrating literacy. Not being able to tackle written sentences has played a significant part in the reason why many inmates are currently serving sentences in the prison. However, despite the fundamental importance of literacy to getting out of a life of crime the prison still has to depend on volunteers to provide literacy classes to prisoners. Speaking at the read-a-thon the prison director Dwight Scott said no one should be ashamed about not being able to read and write but what is shameful, he said, is doing nothing about it.

Dwight Scott said the prison was currently seeking to secure some form of assessment tool with which proper and accurate statistics relating to literacy in the prison could be measured. At the moment the Cayman Islands Prison Service does not have an exact figure of the levels and standards of literacy among inmates.

“There is absolutely no way we can move forward unless we have these facts,” he said. “Literacy is a bridge from misery and a tool for daily life.”

Speaking at the day-long reading event under the theme ‘Literacy heals’ Scott said that irrespective of being in prison inmates needed to develop a thirst for learning as he said it would help them to not return to the institution. He said learning and literacy helped people to make rational decisions and think about their actions. The prison director said it was important for those inmates who were developing a taste for learning to spread itamong their fellow prisoners.

CIRA which provides two hour classes twice per week for inmates who can’t read has estimated that more than 80% of inmates are functionally illiterate – the term used to describe literacy skills that are inadequate to manage daily living and employment tasks requiring reading skills beyond a basic level and many of those inmates are unable to read at all.

With such a limited about of time given each week to tackling the literacy problems volunteers from CIRA have been working with the prison training inmates who can read to teach their fellow prisoners who can’t which offers some opportunity for the inmates who are learning to read outside of the designated four hours taught by volunteers. It also helps to address the shame felt by some prisoners as well as the stigma others attach to those who cannot read.

The governor who was also present at the event and who joined in the read-a-thon told the prisoners that improvements inmates made in literacy and numeracy during their time in prison was an important consideration to the parole board for consideration of early release and was a tool that can help prisoners to get out of jail.

“When recommendations come to me to release someone early it is always one of the things I look at,” Duncan Taylor told the inmates, adding that wherever he sees a prisoner who has made an effort to improve it always counts as a really good sign of someone who is committed to making a better life.

“I am a very strong supporter of bringing literacy in to the prison and trying to encourage people and to give inmates the opportunity to enjoy reading,” the governor said, as he thanked all those involved in helping with prisoner literacy.

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