Reading lessons aim to help cut reoffending rates

Chief Inspector Sharon Woolrich

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A FORMER prisoner has set up a group to teach ex-offenders how to read.

Following a spell in prison, Frankie Owens has gone on to become an award-winning writer and believes one way to cut reoffending is to teach people to read.

Frankie Owens who set up the read and grow reading group in Portsmouth

Frankie Owens who set up the read and grow reading group in Portsmouth

He has secured funding for a Read and Grow group on Monday nights at the John Pounds Centre in Portsea, which is aimed at those who leave the prison system unable to read or write, and people at risk of offending.

Mr Owens, and a team of volunteers from the University of Portsmouth’s criminology department, are giving up their time to teach a revolutionary way of reading called photo phonics, which can help people read in three months.

But they need people to access the service to make it viable.

Mr Owens said: ‘I know it’s daunting to walk in somewhere like this but, when you start learning to read you get feverishly into it. It changes your whole perspective.

‘Sadly, once you fall through the education system there is nowhere to pick you back up again.

‘We want to see learners who are currently in the probation system, youth offenders and those at risk of offending, and we want to see their families too.

‘You have to look at the whole picture and often their parents are illiterate too.’

Mr Owens’ time in prison was spent as a library orderly where he wrote letters on behalf of prisoners unable to read or write.

He said: ‘People don’t realise that 48 per cent of prisoners can’t read – that’s a huge amount.

‘That figure hasn’t changed in a long time.

‘What chance do you have if you can’t read? If your bail form comes through the post and you can’t even understand what it says?

‘Being able to read gives you purpose and dignity and a platform to move on with your life, to change your life.’

The sessions are informal and, if learners are not sure if it is right for them, they can visit the sessions for a cup of coffee and to chat with the mentors first.

Mr Owens said he decided to use the John Pounds Centre because people may be put off of walking into a library.

The sessions are every Monday at the centre in Queens Street, Portsea, from 6pm to 7pm. Call 07778 793574.