Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Effects of a Short-Term Auxiliary Reading Program on the Reading Skills of Incarcerated Youth

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Effects of a Short-Term Auxiliary Reading Program on the Reading Skills of Incarcerated Youth

Article excerpt

University of Maryland


A disproportionate number of incarcerated youth demonstrate poor reading skills. While poor academic performance does not directly cause delinquent behavior, rates of re-offending and recidivism are highly correlated with low levels of academic achievement. This study examined the academic achievement of 45 incarcerated youth who received an intensive, 6-week summer reading program. The intervention combined approximately 3 hours of direct instruction and whole language reading activities per day. Pre- and posttest reading skills were assessed via the Gray Oral Reading Tests, 3rd edition (GORT-3). Paired t-tests of pre- and post-test standardized scores demonstrated significant improvements on 3 of 4 reading sub-tests. Overall reading abilities of participants remained low, however, suggesting the need for more long-term interventions.

Reading skills of juvenile delinquents are notoriously low. A national study of reading skills of juvenile delinquents (Project READ) reported that youth in correctional facilities read, on average, at the fourth grade level (Brunner, 1993). Similarly, a study of juveniles in a Midwest juvenile detention facility found a group of youths with a mean age of 14.7 to be functioning approximately 4 years behind grade level in reading comprehension (Rincker, Reilly, & Braaten, 1990). A study of students in Florida juvenile justice facilities found that nearly 80% of juveniles admitted to residential facilities scored one or more grade levels behind their same-age peers in reading (Florida Legislature, 1998). Additionally, most juvenile offenders who exit detention facilities after the age of 16 do not return to any formal school program -- minimizing the chance of sig-[Incomplete]

While illiteracy and low reading skills are not necessarily direct causes of delinquency -- reducing illiteracy through quality education in correctional facilities has been shown to reduce recidivism. Brunner (1993) noted that the recidivism rate for juvenile offenders could be reduced by as much as 20% for youth involved in effective reading instruction programs. In general, literacy rates and higher levels of educational attainment among individuals released from correctional institutions are inversely correlated with recidivism (Center on Crime, Communities, and Culture, 1997).

Principles of positive criminology suggest that providing juvenile delinquents with educational opportunities -- especially those that open the door to further learning opportunities beyond the correctional facility -- plays a critical role in encouraging delinquents to adopt legitimate roles for themselves, hastening the rehabilitation process (Empey & Stafford, 1991). Reading instruction is critical in improving juvenile delinquents' chances of adopting legitimate roles in society, because our society highly values reading ability. The ability to read well is correlated with many positive long-term outcomes. It is almost impossible to function successfully in today's world without a minimal level of reading proficiency (Chall, 1983).

Though youth in detention facilities demonstrate considerable need for quality reading instruction -- providing that instruction is made challenging by several factors. One such factor is the high rate of mobility among incarcerated youth (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). As the national average length of confinement in juvenile correctional facilities is only 15 days (Abt Associates, 1994), instruction for these youths must be focused, intense, and delivered both effectively and efficiently.

With these concerns in mind, we designed an intensive auxiliary reading program for juvenile delinquents housed at a detention facility serving a large urban area on the east coast. With youth at this facility typically not receiving intense reading instruction during the summer months, the purpose of this study was to determine if the addition of a short-term summer reading program could boost the reading abilities of low-achieving youth committed or detained in the facility for the summer months. …

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