Dyslexia Behind Bars

Jackie Hewitt-Main is the driving force behind a remarkable project which might just revolutionise education in prisons in the UK.

Her project, based initially in Chelmsford Prison, has shown that up to 53% of prisoners may have dyslexia and that 21% have suffered a head injury which could have affected their behaviour. She has pioneered a cost-effective approach to help prisoners learn to read and write and there are clear signs that it could lead to a dramatic drop in re-offending rates.

Terry had been in and out of prison more than 40 times and was self-harming. He was totally frustrated with his inability to read and write and the fact that this was holding him back in a world where jobs, benefits and many social activities require good literacy skills.

He was assessed using Lexion software, a Swedish program which tests for a whole battery of skills and then provides carefully targeted exercises to build knowledge and confidence. He has made great progress and is now one of the prison mentors.

Jackie has adopted a grass roots approach. Learning doesn’t necessarily take place in a classroom because this is not a natural environment for those who have struggled and failed at school. She introduces learners to visual and tactile approaches and helps them find their own learning style.

“I was 40 when I found I had dyslexia,” said Jackie. ” I realise that my learning disabilities have been a big problem in my life. Many of the prisoners I met in my dyslexia and mentoring project at Chelmsford, including those with the most challenging behaviours, showed such great transformation and went on to help others with the knowledge they had gained.”

It is a shame that much of the publicity surrounding prisons this month centres on Gordon Ramsay – a man who can bully for England- and there is so little mention of the good work in prisons which can help offenders to turn their live around.

Dyslexia Behind Bars: Final Report of a Pioneering Teaching and Mentoring Project at Chelmsford Prison – 4 Years on by Jackie Hewitt-Main (Paperback – Jun 2012) can be bought on Amazon