Let's Make it Easy for Johnny to Learn to Read

The Windham School District was established by the Texas Legislature as an entity separate and distinct from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, with the Texas Board of Criminal Justice serving as the Board of Trustees for the school district. It is the policy of the board that the school district shall provide academic, as well as career and technology education, to eligible offenders incarcerated within the department.

The Criminal Justice Policy Council has been evaluating the performance of the prison educational system-the Windham School District. Three prior reports have reviewed the operations of the Windham School District, examined the educational achievement of inmates participating in Windham programs, and analyzed the impact of educational achievement on post-release employment. This final report examines the relationship between educational achievement in prison and recidivism.

More than 25,000 inmates were tracked in the community after release from prison to determine the number that were re-incarcerated after two years and to better understand how educational achievement during their most recent incarceration may have impacted their recidivism. To allow for this examination, only "first releases"—inmates released from prison for the first time—were tracked. Recidivism rates are usually reported for all releases, therefore, recidivism rates presented in this report differ slightly from those shown previously.

The largest impact on recidivism rates occurred when high-risk inmates (young property offenders) who were nonreaders became readers. High-risk nonreaders who learned to read had a 37 percent lower recidivism rate than high risk nonreaders who did not learn to read (19 percent recidivism rate compared with 30 percent).

Current statistics are generally unavailable. A Florida report took into account the long-range benefits of reducing recidivism, including the reduction of welfare costs and employment taxes paid by employed recidivists and their employers.

One adult basic education instructor was responsible for the literacy training programs for a prison of 5,000 inmates; based on an estimated 60 percent illiteracy rate, he was responsible for 3,000 students.

With a simple English spelling system, many, if not most, of those incarcerated would have learned to read and write well enough to get and hold a job and not be a burden on taxpayers.

Until English spelling is reformed there will be a substantial number of children who will not learn to read and write.

Blaming teachers and throwing money at the problem will not improve literacy quantitatively nor qualitatively until a simple spelling system for English is adopted.

The actual cost in pounds and dollars caused by our current spelling system is incalculable, but it is a great and unnecessary burden on all taxpayers.

If decimalization of British currency was possible, it is possible to adopt a new spelling system that will benefit everyone, and, though it may entail a bit of inconvenience for a short time, it will pay huge dividends to our children and grandchildren in the years to come. It will be the greatest inheritance that they will ever get.

A simple spelling system cannot be adopted soon enough.

The first step will be to appoint a commission based on the commission established to inaugurate the decimalization of British monetary system.

Sanford S. Silverman (ADL '48)