#7 Literacy and Incarceration

In aligning the interests of the CLC — being providing literacy support to underserved populations — with my own career interests (literacy education, particularly for those kids who don’t have good teachers), I found a research article which suited me exactly, entitled Preventing Youth Incarceration Through Reading Remediation: Issues and Solutions.

My work in the CLC has consistently brought me back to critical thoughts of our justice system. What’s the current estimated recidivism rate? 50%, at least? Doesn’t seem too effective to me. The article echoes this point, and then moves from the inadequacy of reactionary measures to the effectiveness of prevention:

“Decades of research suggest that prevention (i.e., teaching and helping youths to develop strategies that keep them positively connected to their families, communities, and schools) is an effective strategy available for reducing youth delinquent behavior (Dodge, 1999; Hawkins et al., 2000; Kashani, Jones, Bumby, & Thomas, 1999; Leone, Mayer, Malmgren, & Meisel, 2000)” (Christle & Yell, 149).

Not only is prevention, in broad terms, effective for helping to keep kids out of trouble, but literacy work specifically is effective, because it helps them develop an understanding of and an outlet for their thoughts and feelings. I’ve heard this before, I’ve come to believe it in my own experiences (both in CLC and while working in the middle schools), and it is also supported by Christle & Yell. “Interventions that target reading problems have been shown to be a type of preventive effort that can reduce youth incarceration” (149).

Now with SpeakOut! we are primarily (but not solely) focused on writing as opposed to reading. However, first of all, it is accepted in language acquisition research that writing skills support reading skills and vice versa. Also, when we teach reading, we teach students to think like writers (e.g., “What is the author’s purpose?”) — and when we teach writing, we teach students to think like readers (e.g., “Who is your audience? Why should this interest them?).

I have come to believe, over my years of working with youth, literacy and education, and in my few semesters of studying, that all of these things are true. It makes sense that prevention solves a cause (rather than patching a problem) and that reading and writing skills are interrelated.

Now how does this specifically attach to my experiences at Turning Point? For an example, one boy (I’ll call him Joe) obviously experiences racism and other prejudices from some of the boys. But when he reads his writing, everyone quiets down to listen, and they often give him some kind of compliment after (even if it’s just an enthusiastic “Yeah”). He’s able to use his writing skills to get past those barriers and make his experience relate to their experiences.

Article info:

Title: Preventing Youth Incarceration Through Reading Remediation: Issues and Solutions

Authors: Christine A. Christle & Mitchell L. Yell

DOI: 10.1080/10573560701808437

Found in EBSCO. Link: http://0-search.ebscohost.com.catalog.library.colostate.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,url,cpid&custid=s4640792&db=aph&AN=30105992&site=ehost-live


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