The U.S. Department of Education recently released the report, Literacy Behind Bars: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy Prison Survey. This report summarizes the findings of the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) which assessed the English literacy of incarcerated adults. The first assessment since 1992, the 2003 assessment was administered to approximately 1,200 inmates (ages 16 and older) in state and federal prisons, as well as to approximately 18,000 adults (ages 16 and older) living in households. The prison sample is representative of the 1,380,000 adults in prison and the household sample is representative of the 221,020,000 adults in households in 2003. Both the 1992 and 2003 Assessments, define literacy as: “Using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”
The assessment indicates there is a direct link between literacy and participation in certain activities in prison such as reading, using computers, using the library, and being given the opportunity for certain work assignments.
Many prisons have a library that is available to inmates. However, the opportunity for a prisoner to actually use the library is influenced by a variety of factors including; the hours that the library is open, procedures that inmates must go through to request a visit to the library or delivery of books from the library, and the extent and variety of reading materials available. (According to the Directory of State Prison Librarians 2002, 826 state prisons have a librarian. This is approximately 62% of state prisons according to the most recent report on the number of state correctional facilities in the U.S.)
In general, prison inmates who use the library have higher average prose and quantitative literacy than inmates who never use the library. The report explains, “Library use can be related to literacy in two ways; adults who have higher literacy levels may be more likely to want to access the library and find things to read, and adults who use the library and read more frequently may improve their literacy levels.”
This report is available at: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/2007473.pdf