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Reading Is Fundamental, Therapeutic and Has a Place in Corrections
By William Daly , CPM, CCE, CJM
Published: 11/14/2011

Father reading Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is the oldest and largest children's and family nonprofit literacy organization in the United States. Their website states that, “Planting seeds of inspiration in our nation’s most vulnerable children is what RIF and a network of more than 400,000 volunteers do”.

Let’s consider for a moment the vulnerability of those children who have parents that are currently incarcerated. What happens to those children who no longer have a parent to supervise, nurture, let alone encourage them to pursue their education and advance their reading skills? What about the detainees themselves? Many of the incarcerated parents struggle with their own literacy issues. Their illiteracy issues not only hinder their ability to successfully transition back into society as a productive citizen but also fuels the cycle of illiteracy due to the fact that they have not had the skills or confidence to read to their own sons and daughters.

Throughout the history of corrections, efforts have been made to reform and rehabilitate offenders. Over the course of time we have seen programs come and go and paradigms shift from left to right. We have seen hundreds of the hot new programs pop up only to fizzle out as fast as they appeared. According to research and statistics, the most successfully used modes of treatment in American prisons are education and work programs. Our “Story Book Moms and Dads” program takes the successful track record of education programs in correctional facilities and puts our own twist on it to include not only the detainee but their children as well. Aside from the literacy aspect of the program, “Story Book Moms and Dads” helps with the reunification process and gives the detainee the opportunity that they otherwise would not have, to bond with their child.

The incarceration of adults usually results in the trauma of the innocent people left behind, namely their children. Studies have shown that children suffer many feelings associated with parent incarceration such as abandonment, shame and isolation, often leading to other negative consequences including poor performance at school, truancy and delinquent behavior. These studies also reveal that half of all imprisoned parents who lose contact with their families, as opposed to, those that maintain contact, are six times less likely to re-offend upon release.

The SRPMIC Salt River Department of Correction in cooperation with the SRPMIC Fatherhood Program decided to implement our own version of this program after being inspired by "Story Book Dads" a successful program in the United Kingdom. This program, which operates out of Dart moor Prison, gives the incarcerated parent the opportunity to record themselves reading a story and a message onto a CD or DVD which is sent to their child.

Using high definition video cameras, we record the parent from multiple angles. Next, with the help of digital editing software, we edit out mistakes; add animations, sound effects, and music. Finally, the DVD's are burned off, a personalized cover is created and the finished disc is sent to the child. We are very aware of how fortunate we are to have the support of the community and the technology and resources to make this happen, but this can be done with any video recorder and simple editing software found on most computers.

This program is for everyone. The beauty of the editing process is that it allows the poor readers or non-readers the opportunity to still participate. A mentor will simply read each line for the detainee to repeat and then the mentor’s voice is edited out.

For many families, the CD/DVD's are a lifeline, giving detainees the opportunity to reduce the damage done to their child as a result of the forced separation. Improving literacy skills for parent and child greatly increases their prospects post incarceration, and with improved family ties so inextricably linked with reduced re-offending, the social and financial benefits to society are immeasurable. The “Story Book Moms and Dads” CDs/DVD’s bring comfort to the children and gives them the opportunity to hear their parent’s voice whenever they want or need to. The ability to use these stories to engage with their parents and the opportunity that it gives them to use their imagination not only encourages their interest in books and reading but increases these children’s chances of succeeding at school and significantly improves their social and learning skills.

For the detainees, this enables them to produce something personal and tangible for their child as well as maintain meaningful contact. This program not only helps the detainee with their self esteem but it also reinforces one of the major goals of the Fatherhood program which is that even though they are temporarily separated from their children, they can still be an integral part of the family unit as well as a valued parent. Many become encouraged to improve their own literacy skills and go on to explore other learning opportunities. This is an innovative way to improve education and rehabilitation programs for detainees and also promotes the history and culture of this community by utilizing Native American stories and books.

Storybook Dads/Moms gives some detainees, who have little faith in their ability to learn, new skills and improved self confidence. Many of these parents have never read a story to their child before, so this CD/DVD allows the child to understand that their Dad and/or Mom does care and wants to be part of their life. Our detainees gain valuable literacy and family skills. Their work gives them an enormous sense of pride and achievement.

The effectiveness of this program, related to post release recidivism, is yet to be seen due to the fact that it is still in its infancy here in this community. Although, nationally the results are not unequivocal, the existing research generally suggests that these types of programs do have a modest impact in reducing post release recidivism, especially when targeted at certain inmates (e.g., those with low skills) and when part of a broader strategy such as a multi-modal approach to rehabilitating offenders. If this program, as one additional tool, replicates what our friends in the United Kingdom have done, we will be more than satisfied.

Footnotes/Resources: 1. Silverman, Ira J., and Vega, Manuel. Corrections: A Comprehensive Review. Minneapolis, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1996. 2. Adams, Kenneth; Bennett, Katherine J.; Flanagan, Timothy J.; Marquart, James W.; Cuvelier, Steven J.; Fritsch, Eric; Gerber, Jurg; Longmire, Dennis R.; and Burton, Velmer S., JR. "A Large-Scale Multidimensional Test of the Effect of Prison Education Programs on Offenders' Behavior." The Prison Journal 74, no. 4 (1994): 433–449. 3. Story Book Dads, http://www.storybookdads.org.uk/

Editors note: Corrections.com author, William Daly, CPM, CCE, CJM is a veteran in the field of Corrections, entering his 25th year. Daly is a retired Captain from the New York City Department of Correction and Currently the Acting Director of the Salt River Department of Correction, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Other articles by Daly


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