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Literacy, Learning Disabilities and Their Association with Imprisonment

NCJ Number
Corrections Compendium Volume: 35 Issue: 3 Dated: Fall 2010 Pages: 7-13
Lucy Barnard-Brak; Tracey N. Sulak
Date Published
7 pages
This study examined the association between literacy skills, learning disabilities, and imprisonment.
The study findings add to the body of literature that shows an inverse relationship between literacy and imprisonment. In addition, the reporting of a learning disability was significantly linked with having a lower level of literacy. The inverse relationship between literacy and imprisonment can be explained by a variety of factors. Lower levels of literacy handicap an individual during criminal justice processing, making it less likely that they will be acquitted or receive a lesser sentence. Offenders with lower levels of literacy may not have the verbal skills to gain access to programs that could help them achieve reduced sentences or access to therapy provided through the criminal justice system. Although having a learning disability and low level of literacy may not be a direct cause of an offense or a sentence of imprisonment, nevertheless, there is a positive association between being imprisoned and having a learning disability. Given this circumstance, the value of literacy programs for inmates is critical to a positive adjustment in prison and in the community after release. Literacy programs for inmates may be beneficial in not only reducing rates of recidivism upon release but also in increasing rates of GED or high school equivalency attainment among inmates. One successful literacy program for juvenile offenders found that individualized instruction and a highly organized, explicit, and direct curriculum contributed to an increase in literacy after a short period of instruction (Coulter, 2004). Data for this study were collected as part of the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy study. 1 figure and 24 references