Essex County Council will run a ‘unique’ book club for prisoners

A ‘unique’ book club that pairs school students and prisoners has been launched by Essex County Council, with the aim of turning inmates lives around.

A ‘unique’ book club that pairs school students and prisoners has been launched by Essex County Council, with the aim of turning inmates lives around.

Essex Libraries at Chelmsford prison has signed up to a project by the National Literacy Trust called Books Unlocked that enables prisoners, community book groups and school students to connect through books by reading and discussing Man Booker Prize shortlisted titles.

The aim of Books Unlocked is to break down barriers so that young offenders and prisoners feel part of the wider community, helping to build their confidence and self-esteem while also improving their reading skills.

The project organisers say they hope these skills will all help to reduce cases of reoffending.

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They believe that listening to the opinions of others in a book group setting promotes tolerance and empathy which can prompt prisoners to reflect on their own situation and make them less likely to commit future crimes.

At HMP/YOI Chelmsford, where Essex Libraries run the prison library service, prisoners received copies of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, a story about two hired assassins during the California Gold Rush.

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Rectory Readers, a book club in Great Oakley, and a group of year 11 students from St Helena School in Colchester, read the same book before giving their thoughts and reviews to library staff to share with prisoners.

Two members of Rectory Readers then joined a discussion at the prison, which gave prisoners a rare chance to interact with the outside world and reflect on their own crimes.

Councillor Susan Barker, cabinet member responsible for libraries, said: “I visited Chelmsford Prison recently to see first-hand how the library is making a real difference in rehabilitating offenders.

“The library is a haven of calm and inspiration in an extremely challenging environment.

“Together with projects like Books Unlocked it is helping to improve reading and writing skills, which are so vital if these men are to play a positive part in our society upon their release.”

One prisoner said: “I think it’s a very positive and educational way for prisoners to interact with the outside world.

“Sharing my opinions and thoughts with others has been unique and irreplaceable.”

As part of the programme, authors of the books provided by Books Unlocked will also visit prisons to speak to inmates.

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