Books Unlocked: exploring 'Pigeon English' with Prison and Community Reading Groups in Staffordshire

June 30, 2014

Tagged with: Prisoners and their families, Young offenders

Books Unlocked is a reading initiative involving prison and community reading groups. It was delivered by Staffordshire County Council’s Prison Library Service with support from the National Literacy Trust.

There is further information about the Books Unlocked initiative on the National Literacy Trust website.

The initiative had the following Aims and Objectives:

  • To distribute a copy of Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman to a significant number of Young Offenders at HMYOI Brinsford
  • To form a focus reading group in the prison library to discuss and evaluate the book and for Young Offenders studying English to read the book in class
  • To engage an adult male prison, three schools and a public library reading group in reading the novel
  • To share opinions of the novel between the prison reading groups and community reading groups
  • Break down barriers so Young Offenders feel part of the wider community
  • Build confidence and self-esteem
  • Enhance basic skills to enable access to future learning opportunities and employability
  • Build on partnerships within both the prison and public library services
  • Raise the profile of the prison library.

This evaluation report compiled by Alan G Smith and published by Staffordshire County Council in 2014 shows the demonstrable impact of this work:

"From The ‘Books Unlocked’ project an insight was gained into the varying ways in which a single novel can be interpreted across a broad spectrum of age-ranges and cultural backgrounds.  It was also observed that barriers can easily be broken between groups of teenagers within a young offenders’ prison and those who are in formal education within the community as all the opinions of the participants in the reading groups were valued and insightful.

Each group was able to learn from the other and this has improved self-esteem amongst the prison groups and also enhanced the learning of the community groups.

The young offenders at HMYOI Brinsford and the adult prisoners at HMP Featherstone have gained self-confidence and a sense of worth by participating in a project which has reached beyond the walls of the prison and had an impact in the wider community.  This will have an impact on their lives after prison when they return to that community.

All the groups have enhanced their listening and social skills by being part of a group and taking other peoples thoughts and opinions on board.

The evaluations have shown that the majority who read ‘Pigeon English’ enjoyed the novel and are looking forward to reading Stephen Kelman’s next novel.

The Focus group in HMYOI Brinsford Library all signed each others copies of ‘Pigeon English’ at the final meeting.  It was felt that in the future when their various sentences were complete and they were long away from HMYOI Brinsford they would always be able to re-read the novel and see all their names together.  This way they would never forget that they had been part of ‘Books Unlocked.’"

Books Unlocked: exploring 'Pigeon English' with Prison and Community Reading Groups in Staffordshire