Illiteracy is an often overlooked aspect of mass incarceration and the criminal justice system in the United States.
According to a study by the The Literacy Project Foundation, three out of five people in U.S. prisons can’t read, while 85% of juvenile offenders have trouble reading. Other research by Invisible Children has estimated that illiteracy rates in prisons are as high as 75% of the prison population.
A strong connection exists between early low literacy skills and incarceration rates, Literacy Mid-South reports. The following statistics back up that connection:
- 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally low literate.
- Juvenile incarceration reduces the probability of high school completion and increases the probability of incarceration later in life.
- High school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested in their lifetime.
- High school dropouts are 63% more likely to be incarcerated than their peers with four-year college degrees.
- Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate in the nation. The average adult inmate reads on a sixth-grade level when admitted. Half of the state’s inmates never finished high school.
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Education conducted the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) survey, assessing the English literacy of incarcerated adults. Out of 1,200 people incarcerated in state and federal prisons, along with 18,000 non-imprisoned Americans, the NAAL found that there was a significant difference between the literacy rates between incarcerated individuals and their non-incarcerated counterparts, Prison Policy reports. The study found that people in prison are 13 to 24 percent more represented in the lowest levels of literacy than people in the free world.
In spite of their overall lower proficiencies, many inmates reported getting no help with such activities as filling out forms, reading newspapers or other written information, reading information from agencies and companies, and writing letters, the National Center for Education Statistics reports.
Research has shown that arming inmates with a solid education is one of the surest ways of reducing the rate at which they end up back behind bars after being released, The Observer reports. Education as an important form of rehabilitation, but the reality for prisoners is far different. Stigmas and barriers to access are keeping countless incarcerated Americans illiterate. Only a slim percent of inmates are in academic classes, and fewer attend vocational classes.
Confronting illiteracy in prisons will in turn affect recidivism rates. Join a growing number of individuals calling on the Attorney General of Mississippi to provide prisoners with the resources they need to improve their reading and writing skills. Click below to make a difference.Whizzco