Wednesday Webinar: Unlocking the Power of Reading with Shannon Trust

Home > Wednesday Webinar: Unlocking the Power of Reading with Shannon Trust

28 October 2021

HMP Pentonville books

50% of people in prison cannot read, or struggle to. Shannon Trust inspires and trains prisoners who can read to teach prisoners who can’t.

In conversation with CEO of Shannon Trust, Ian Merrill, at our recent webinar attendees discussed basic literacy amongst people in prison, and the approach to this issue in the criminal justice system.


‘Learning to read can be the starting point of building a new, non-offending identity.’




The level of literacy amongst people in prison, and those leaving custody, is unacceptably high. Issues with illiteracy highlighted by Ian include:

  • Difficulty contacting family by letter
  • Struggle to navigate day to day signs 
  • Low self esteem
  • Limited access to education
  • Barriers to securing jobs on release
  • Less opportunities in general


Pre-COVID, 89% of Shannon Trust learners went on to formal education.


‘As a society we value reading… it’s an essential life tool.’


Low levels of literacy often correlate with poor experiences of education. Ian emphasised the importance of introducing education and literacy in creative ways and comfortable environments, with incentives and accessibility:

  • A range of informal learning spaces, e.g. workshops, gyms, etc, could change the way people approach education.
  • Literacy as a part of sentence planning would prioritise reading skills.
  • Pay received for attending education should be on par with work wages to increase incentive.
  • More self study options should be available, particularly through in-cell technology, for those who prefer to work independently.


‘We should be aiming to see basic literacy prioritised across the prison estate, because it is so foundational to so many other things.’ 


The conversation opened to the audience, for an interactive discussion on the current landscape, upcoming challenges in prison education, and ideas for strategic focuses to overcome these.

Listen to the Recording

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