When prisoner Tom Shannon received a letter 25 years ago, it marked the start of a groundbreaking scheme that is now key to rehabilitation efforts – by helping inmates who can read to teach those who can’t.
Inside the Shannon Trust’s cramped office in south London, chief-executive Angela Cairns tells me a startling statistic: 50% of prisoners in the UK are functionally illiterate. This means half of the 85,000 people currently incarcerated have a reading age of 11 or lower – with 20% falling well short of that mark. Many prisoners are completely illiterate.
“Some people start off with some basic reading but very little confidence, and other people can’t read at all,” Cairns explains. “That’s a massive problem in the outside world.”