Concept of the Month -- April/May 2011

Literarcy and Recidivism

Mention is often made of the high rate of illiteracy among prison inmates. Statistics to this effect have been cited for decades. In fact, illiteracy has sometimes been suggested as contributing to criminal behavior. The argument is that, if a person is illiterate, he is locked out of the mainstream and lacks opportunities to be a responsible self-sustaining member of society.

I have found that, in most cases, the offender has shut himself out of the mainstream. It has not been done "to " him. As a youngster, he had an "I dare you teach me" attitude rejecting school despite the school's repeated efforts to engage him in learning.

In a detention center, the offender has time on his hands. Remedial education programs are offered in many juvenile and adult correctional institutions, including local facilities such as county jails. If an offender decides to avail himself of these programs, in a matter of months of dedicated effort, he can make up a lot of ground quickly. Not motivated while in school, his newfound motivation (if it endures) can result in his learning to read in a short period of time.

Learning to read well is of course invaluable. Not only is the individual able to locate job notices and seek out other opportunities, but the self-discipline of learning to read in and ot itself is worthwhile. However, one must not presume that learning to read in and of itself results in a person functioning in a responsible manner and abstaining from criminal conduct. There is the distinct possibility that the outcome of literacy programs is criminals who can read rather than criminals who are illiterate. Being able to read by itself does not change thinking patterns of a life time. There is a lot more to the task of change, namely becoming aware of thinking errors and their ramifications, recognizing thinking errors before acting on them, then learning and implementing corrective patterns of thought. Learning to read is one valuable step in the right direction. But it must not be confused with a change in a person's overall outlook on life.

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