Is the illiteracy-to-prison connection real?

For the past five years, I have been studying the relationship between literacy and incarceration. In public discourse, the relationship seems so normalized that few people question its validity. But how valid is it? Researchers maintain there is a clear relationship between literacy and incarceration in the United States. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, two thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. The U.S. Department of Justice suggests that upward of 85% of all systems-involved youth and more than 60% of all prison inmates are “functionally illiterate.” According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 70% of all incarcerated adults cannot read at a fourth-grade level, “meaning they lack the reading skills to navigate many everyday tasks or hold down anything but lower (paying) jobs.” Although these numbers are alarming, they do not necessarily prove a link between literacy and incarceration. They might, however, suggest something more inauspicious—that the people we lock up are the same people we fail to teach to read and write. But why?

Please read the full the article in Literacy Today or here.

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