PEOPLE WORKING in prisoner education within the Scottish Prison Service read the feature on dyslexia, "A spell on the inside" (TESS, July 23) with interest. It raises a number of issues on which I would like to comment.
Prisoners and young offenders have a higher than average level of difficulty with literacy and numeracy. Some of the reasons for this are alluded to in the article. Purporting to discuss dyslexia, in fact much of what is said reflects the substantial learning difficulties, for a wide range of social and educational reasons, which are prevalent in the prison population.
Many prisoners have very special special needs. To label as dyslexia may bring relief to some. For most, access to appropriate learning is the key.
The Prison Service is aware of and tackling the learning difficulties of prisoners. Far from "making available a resource book" etc we have actually distributed a detail resource pack on dyslexia and other learning difficulties to each prison education unit.
The contents, carefully selected in discussion with the Scottish Dyslexia Association, who provide consultancy and advice to the SPS, include a basic dyslexia screening assessment; information about dyslexia; sources of help and various learning materials which have proved to be of direct benefit to prisoners.
Last year education co-ordinators from each prison attended an awareness session run by the Scottish Dyslexia Association. In many cases these staff have been involved in training on the issue provided by their employers, further education colleges. Some hold specialist qualifications in the area of special needs.
Forty per cent of young offenders surveyed in Polmont in 1998 had been in special educational provision, in recognition of their earlier difficulties in fitting in with the mainstream. The majority of prisoners report truancy from ages of 10 or 11.
Of course, despite the extensive educational needs, SPS does not have unlimited resources to put into prisoner education. Almost pound;2 million per annum is spent currently. The SPS prisoner education policy allocates priority to addressing the literacy needs and core skills needs of prisoners. Dyslexia is an important issue in ensuring all prisoners may learn effectively.
Of course, more money would help, but the Scottish Prison Service must, and does live within its budgets. One thing is absolutely certain - skewing priorities will not help Lillias Noble Education adviser Scottish Prison Service Calton House, Redheughs Rigg, Edinburgh