Read a book, save a life

There is a furor in Britain between writers and the UK Secretary of Justice Chris Grayling about his ban on sending books to prisoners. Grayling claims that the system is overwhelmed by packages being sent to prisons, and that these packages run a likelihood of containing drugs and contraband. He says that prisons have libraries and this should suffice for the literary needs of prisoners. Hundreds of writers have disagreed.

Let’s take a few steps back, because the relationship between incarceration and literacy – or rather illiteracy – applies worldwide. In an ideal world, people would not commit crime and there would not be a need for prisons. We don’t live in an ideal world however, and prisons are necessary to protect society from those who deviate from the rules of civil society. Greed and conflict part of the human condition. That being said, there is a proven and inextricable link between crime and low literacy.

• 70% of prisoners fall into the lowest two levels of reading proficiency (National Institute for Literacy, 1998).
• 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
• Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help.

In the US prison-industrial complex, there is evidence that one of the factors that the state of Arizona bases its projections on prison construction includes the illiteracy levels of fourth graders.

An analysis would show that the costs of expanding reading programs, especially those in prisons (where they scarcely exist) would benefit society in multiple ways – reducing crime and fractured families, reducing the cost of administering justice and of putting people in prison repeatedly, and improving purpose, hope and optimism. The institutionally racist and corrupt relationships between commercial prison systems and law enforcement authorities, for example in the state of Louisiana – the world’s prison capital whose incarceration rate is nearly five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s and 20 times Germany’s – would be drastically broken if many more people could read.

The role of business – and governments – is to make the world a better place. If would be a much better place if the governments and the prison industry worked like crazy to foster reading programs and keep people out of prisons.

Here’s a program to look at,, and I liked this: SureShot Books sends books to inmates in prisons all over the Unites States. The company keeps its promise of helping inmates further their education through sending them various reading materials both in Spanish and English. Education is important and inmates, even though they have wronged the society at one time or another gravely, deserve the right to improve themselves through further education. SureShot Books believe that books, magazines, newspapers, and other reading materials are tools that these inmates can use in order to further their education and acquire new knowledge that will help them improve how they deal with life. Therefore, the company has been steadfast in its goal to keep being the bridge for these incarcerated brothers to education.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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