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Functional versus critical literacy in the rehabilitation of offenders: a survey of probation services in England and Wales

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In this paper we examine contrasting concepts of literacy in relation to the rehabilitation of offenders under supervision by the probation service. One approach, derived from a linguistic or code-based perspective, delimits literacy to acquiring minimal routines and procedures to function in mainstream society in order to avoid further failure. Critical literacy, in contrast, derived from a socio-cultural perspective, highlights the importance of acquiring literacy as an active, context-grounded process, through which individuals take personal control for accessing wider social, educational and economic opportunities. Arguably, literacy is a fundamental component of any rehabilitation process for offenders and there is evidence that involvement in literacy programmes reduces recidivism, enables offenders to achieve better family relationships, higher levels of self-control and self-esteem, whilst also promoting a sense of social responsibility and inclusion in society. Data are reported from a survey conducted in England and Wales as part of a Home Office commissioned research project which surveyed literacy provision in 53 out of the 55 probation services, with 13 of these subjectedto more intensiveresearch through site visits.The paper focuses on how probation services perceive the literacy needs of offenders under supervision, and how this informs processes of assessment and intervention, including priorities given to literacy work. The objective of the research was to recommend practices, procedures or partnerships which allow for an effective response to offenders' literacy needs within the service's statutory role. The findings indicate that the provision of literacy assessment and support is unsystematic, with very wide variations in practice nationally, both between and within services. Conflicting perspectives are highlighted on how literacy should be defined and taught, which in turn reflect underlying ambivalence about the role of probation officers as either punitive or preventative. Recommendations are made for policy development and changes in probation service practice.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1999-01-01

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