Improving prison literacy


Supervisor(s): Dr Tom Hopkins and Professor David Wilson

External supervisor: Angela Cairns, Shannon Trust


Birmingham City University’s School of Education has launched a report into an innovative prison programme that teaches adults in custody to become regular readers.

The programme, Turning Pages, was launched in 2015 by Shannon Trust, a charity that encourages prisoners to improve their reading and aid in their rehabilitation. Dr Tom Hopkins began a one-year evaluation of Turning Pages, examining the methods used and the eventual success rate. With the help of leading Criminology expert Professor David Wilson, the team prepared a report to present to CCLA, located at London’s Senator House.


The School of Education aimed to:

  • Discover the success rate of Turning Pages and whether it applied to specific genders, ethnicities and ages.
  • Find out to what extent the programme helped prisoners with employment preparation and personal rehabilitation.
  • Interview students participating in the course to gauge their thoughts and reactions.
  • See if the programme’s peer mentoring scheme was successful.


The report, ‘Turning Pages, Changing Lives: An Evaluation of the Shannon Trust Reading Programme Turning Pages’, discovered that after completing six months of the programme, adults in custody had increased the number of words read by 50 per cent. It also found that learners were reading for both social purposes and to improve their prison experience, while also reading documents as varied as legal letters and application forms.

The report also highlighted the improvement of all readers, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or mental capacity. Additionally, they discovered that the peer mentoring scheme enabled learners to study at times and levels that suited them, as well as allowing mentors to get to know their students.