A SURVEY of young prisoners has found that one in two is dyslexic. Future inspections of Scottish prisons will report on efforts to screen inmates and offer help, Clive Fairweather, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, pledged at a seminar on dyslexia and offending at Moray House Institute.
An estimated 4-10 per cent of Scots are dyslexic, but a study at Edinburgh University by Jane Kirk, a dyslexia adviser, and Gavin Reid, a senior lecturer, found that in a random sample of 50 young offenders at Polmont Institution half were affected. Their report warns that undiagnosed dyslexics "might very well feel devalued at school and turn to deviant behaviour as a way of responding to a sense of low esteem - and as a way of achieving recognition from peers. A pattern of maladjusted behaviour at school might well lead to more serious forms of deviant behaviour and then to imprisonment."
The study noted that, typically in the Scottish Prison Service, there was no support at Polmont for dyslexics. Yet the "time when these young people are serving a custodial sentence offers an ideal opportunity to address their specific learning difficulties".
Mrs Kirk told the seminar: "Dyslexics can mask their learning difficulties from teaches by their social and emotional problems. It then becomes a vicious circle which could lead to offending behaviour and, if not remediated, to repeat offending."
In the 18 months since the study, limited resources in the form of study books for dyslexics had been supplied in some prisons, but "this is simply tokenism".
Mr Fairweather pledged to "mention" how the issue of dyslexia was handled in prison inspection reports in a bid to put the problems more firmly on the agenda. "It will be small beginnings, however," he warned.
"The young offenders' institution is the place to start dealing with dyslexia," Mr Fairweather acknowledged. But action "will come down to willingness and knowledge - and to funding. With the exception of Polmont Institution, it will be on the wish list, but not very high up."
Faced with challenges from suicides and drugs, education was far down the prisons needs list, Mr Fairweather said, "and dyslexia is even further down".
But Mrs Kirk responded: "Of all the problems and disadvantage facing offenders, dyslexia is one of the easiest to deal with."
Calls were made for dyslexia provision to feature in the criteria for prison education contracts.
Leader, page 14