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Writing for Change: Engaging Juveniles Through Alternative Literacy Education

NCJ Number
Journal of Correctional Education Volume: 59 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2008 Pages: 71-93
Tobi Jacobi
Date Published
June 2008
This article presents four models of literacy practices/programs for incarcerated juveniles that serve as alternatives to traditional correctional literacy education, notes their advantages and limitations, and suggests future directions for such programs.
One model consists of creative or expository writing workshops, which can be facilitated by correctional educators, outside volunteers, or contracted teachers. Small groups meet for at least an hour weekly to promote a blend of creative expression and communication based on critical self-reflection. A second model consists of "inside-outside" writing mentor programs. In such programs, established writers from the community are paired with incarcerated writers for writing exchanges in which the outside mentor provides sensitive criticism, tips on creative writing, and guidance in the fundamentals of grammar. A third model consists of independent "zine" writing and networking. "Zines" are do-it-yourself publications intended to communicate the personal thoughts and perspectives of the "zinester." The writings are often hand-copied and circulated through geographically dispersed zine networks and local independent bookstores and writing cafes. A fourth model involves independent writing for corrections or independent publication. Many correctional facilities sponsor newspapers or newsletters for prisoners, which encourage submissions from writers from any institution. Writers can also submit their creative work to outside literary journals. Alternative literacy programs can improve reading, writing, and thinking skills; promote an increased sense of identity; and encourage interactions with peers and other writers around the world. In order to avoid some of the potential adverse experiences of such programs, there must be ethical program development that ensures both individual writers and larger literacy programs are guided and designed with care and assessed regularly. One suggestion for future directions is to build programs around themes with potential for personal growth. 46 references