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Prisoner Literacy

Volume 565: debated on Tuesday 2 July 2013

Part of a prisoner’s induction involves screening for literacy needs, and where such needs are identified, prisoners are offered teaching and support as a priority. Improving prisoners’ literacy is a key objective of the learning and skills service in custody. Improving literacy skills means that a prisoner has a greater likelihood of getting and holding on to a job when released, which helps to reduce reoffending.

According to a recent Ministry of Justice survey, one in five prisoners needs help reading and writing. Charities such as Shannon Trust have pioneered peer mentoring and synthetic phonics to improve literacy rates. What steps is the Minister taking to expand such innovative programmes, and does he agree that they are absolutely crucial to equipping offenders with the skills they need to go straight on release?

I agree with my hon. Friend. He is right to cite the Shannon Trust. Its Toe by Toe project is an extremely good example of what we are discussing. We will help it in any way we can. I hope that he will hear a little more about that over the rest of the summer. The important changes we have made to the incentives and earned privileges scheme go beyond simply what we may take away from prisoners; they are also about the incentives we give them to help other prisoners. In order to reach the enhanced level of the scheme, a prisoner will have to help someone else in prison. That is a good opportunity for more mentoring and more learning coaching of the type he describes.

How supportive is the Minister of creative agencies getting into prisons to help improve language and literacy, and is he aware of any barriers they might have experienced to running workshops in prisons?

I am certainly in favour of anything that can be demonstrated to assist in reducing reoffending, but there is another test that needs to be applied: a public acceptability test. The public have certain expectations of what should and should not happen in prison, so we need to apply that filter, but I am certainly interested in imaginative ideas that will help to drive down reoffending rates.

Can the Minister assure the House that improving literacy among prisoners is provided equally across the United Kingdom? What consultation has he had with the Minister of Justice in the Northern Ireland Assembly?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. I think it is important to learn from good practice wherever it happens across the United Kingdom, and we will continue to try to do that.