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Correctional Literacy Program—The Write to Read--Shows Amazing Results

Mon, Jan 8th 2018 12:25 pm

For example, a horrifying 70% of prison inmates are functionally illiterate—and an unbelievably high percentage of youthful offenders, 85%, have reading difficulties.

Camp Sweeney, a California based juvenile justice program, is tackling this issue and making incredible strides. Students’ reading levels jump by six grades, on average, during the four-month course. To put this in perspective, adult literacy practitioners usually see a one grade level improvement after 50 hours of one on one instruction. 

Youth are sent to Camp Sweeney for low-level criminal offenses. The majority of the male teens, as young as 15 and up to 18 years old, are of color.

The Write to Read program has an explicit focus on using literacy to achieve a more just world, marrying literacy with social justice. It is a collaboration of the Department of Probation, the Alameda County Office of Education, and Alameda County libraries.

The program, a wordplay on “right” to read, is led by literacy specialist Cyrus Armajani. Armajani believes that the success is in part “due to the small group lessons, a focus on the youth’s perspectives, and because they are allowed to freely express themselves—within reason—through their writing.” They read works by authors such as Jimmy Santiago Baca and Tupac.

The majority of the students enter Write to Read at a fifth-grade reading level. Each class is only about four to five students, and they read, dissect texts, and discuss books and poetry. By the time this year’s 36 students graduated, most of them increased six grade levels in literacy, using a reading assessment, and left the program at an 11th-grade reading comprehension level. Some go back to a regular school, or a continuation school, while others receive their high school diploma while they are at Camp Sweeney—a few even take college courses while there.

Marlon, 16, will leave Camp Sweeney in February. “[The program] helped me really express myself,” he said after the graduation ceremony, which he helped emcee. Marlon hopes to get a scholarship to attend college and a part-time job to help support his mom after he leaves Camp Sweeney. “I see myself as a different person. I’m one of the leaders here.”

My Poem

 By Marlon


I found my poem

 in the red and warm place

 where you embrace love

 and show faith.

 My mom once told me

 you have your own way

 to show people

 not to make mistakes.

 I made my own decisions

 until I was locked up away.

 When I came home I did the same thing right away

 But now I know what is right

 and what is wrong.

 I found my poem

 home is where I belong.

Excerpted from an article by Momo Chang, published in The Easy Bay Express


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