Promoting Literacy


   By: Justin S. N. Boodhoo

   2013-10-22 03:20 PM

The last intervention we will analyze is the use of literacy programs to reduce crime. Research has shown that, “children with language difficulties are at risk for antisocial behaviour as they get older, and are more likely to be involved in crime as youth and adults and are at increased risk of bypassing the education, employment, community and family opportunities that will allow them to lead healthy and productive lives” (Colenutt & Toye, 2012, p. 2). Literacy begins for children as early as in utero, through parents reading to their kids and is later transitioned to hands-on reading as children enter the formal education system. The inability to read creates significant issues as simple as not being able to understand a street sign, to huge barriers in employment opportunities. As such, literacy is an important part of child development that has the ability to reduce criminal activity and improve employment opportunities (Colenutt & Toye, 2012).

In Canada, approximately 70% of adult offenders read below a grade 8 reading level (Colenutt & Toye, 2012). Clearly, there is a correlation between being able to read and crime. Although we often look at reading being a skill learned in early childhood, we must also be aware that this is a skill that can be taught throughout the lifespan, and for some, it has been used as an intervention for crime. One method of using literacy to reduce crime is the use of vocational programs (Colenutt & Toye, 2012). This type of programming aims to promote educational opportunities while teaching literacy skills which, along with reducing crime, can also lead to increased self-esteem, positive self-worth, and the ability for a youth to see the positive outcomes of their hard work (Colenutt & Toye, 2012).

The next aspect we will look at in relation to literacy  is its effect on youth who are already young offenders, again, knowing that reading skills are something that may be taught at various stages of life. “Incarcerated youths who attend school typically experience chronic academic and behavioural difficulties, truancy, grade retention, and suspension. In addition, their formal ties to schooling are typically disrupted by their dropping out, being expelled, or effectively pushed out” (Vacca, 2008, p. 1). This again goes back to the notion of kids being labelled, creating further stigmatization of troubled children.

Criminal offending can start at any age, and as such, will bring children with various degrees of education. “Education as a form of intervention has long been a part of most programming in youth custodial sentences” (Campbell, 2005, p. 280). It could be assumed that methods used within the context of a correctional setting would be aimed to decrease the recidivism rates of crime, which have been found to be as high as 55% (Vacca, 2005).

By teaching literacy and education while incarcerated, we improve the likelihood of a successful transition into the real world. Research has shown that, "inmates exposed to education programs are more likely to be employed and less likely to end up back in prison than non-participants” (Vacca, 2008, p. 3) as well as reducing recidivism of crime as much as 20%. Looking at the fact that youth incarceration in Canada is usually held for only the most serious offenders, this gives a natural and common sense approach to trying to reduce criminal involvement in the future, while giving these at risk youth a better chance at productively engaging in society.


Youth crime in Canada is preventable. Education is a naturally occurring event that can be used both as a preventative and intervention approach to reducing crime. The cost of incarceration, “for an individual with long‐term criminal involvement beginning in youth will cost Canadians $2 million in legal and judiciary services, community supervision, incarceration, policing and property damage” (Colenutt & Toye, 2012, p.2). From a fiscal responsibility lens, it makes sense to invest in our children at a young age, while still having the appropriate resources to support kids should they become incarcerated, believing that there can still be hope for those struggling, with some basic education skills being a gateway to positive emotional, social , and development wellness. Policy must continue to be developed to address the need for integrating education into our kids’ lives, understanding that we all have strengths that should be nurtured, while at the same time we should be pushed in a supportive healthy manner to address areas of need. By doing this, we facilitate an environment of empathic teaching that gives our children positive self-esteem, self-awareness, and the social supports to move forward through their educational journey.


Campbell, K.M. (Ed.). (2005). Understanding youth justice in Canada. Toronto, ON: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Colenutt, A., & Toye, M.A. (2012). Critical crossroads: Youth, criminal justice and literacy. Toronto, ON: Frontier College.

Vacca, J. S. (2008). Crime can be prevented if schools teach juvenile offenders to read. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(9), 1055-1062.

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