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Help urged for jail dyslexics

The Scottish Dyslexia Forum is to ask the Parliament's justice committee to put pressure on the prison service to improve educational opportunities for dyslexic inmates.

Prison management has so far refused to tackle a problem which could have its roots in schools, it is claimed.

At a seminar on offenders held in Edinburgh last week, Jane Kirk, the forum's convener, said that while there were successful projects south of the border, Scotland was "a black hole".

Campaigners believe that the literacy difficulties associated with dyslexia contribute to later behaviour problems and that, if these are treated early, the number of people who end up behind bars could be dramatically reduced.

The conference heard a call for details of dyslexic problems among young people to be routinely provided for children's panel reporters. Gillian Bishop, of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland, said:

"Undiagnosed difficulties with literacy are bound to affect these children's behaviour."

Mrs Kirk said: "Pupils with undiagnosed dyslexia might very well feel devalued at school and turn to deviant behaviour as a way of responding to a sense of low esteem.

"A pattern of maladjusted behaviour may set in which, by the time they reach adulthood, results in them being sent to prison."

Dyslexia is estimated to affect up to one in 10 of the general population. But a study carried out in Polmont Institution by Mrs Kirk and Gavin Reid, both of Edinburgh University, revealed that, within a random sample of 50 young offenders, half were dyslexic.

Mrs Kirk and Dr Reid are now conducting a screening exercise in Saughton Prison in Edinburgh. "Of all the problems facing offenders dyslexia is one of the easiest to deal with," Mrs Kirk said. "The prison education service is currently focused on general adult basic education and does not want to entertain any other kind of initiative. It is vital, however, that the difficulties of dyslexics are specifically addressed."

Dyspel is one project in England dedicated to screening and tutoring dyslexic offenders. Based in south London, it has found that 52 per cent of offenders are dyslexic. In its latest study, published earlier this month, it also found that giving these offenders remedial tutoring reduced re-offending rates. Out of 371 offenders, only 42 per cent reoffended, in comparison to 52 per cent of the general prison population.

Mrs Kirk said: "The time spent serving a custodial sentence offers an opportunity to address the learning difficulties which will have been partly responsible for the offending behaviour in the first place."

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