Criminal Justice

Shared Reading in Criminal Justice

For nearly a decade The Reader has been running Shared Reading groups in the Criminal Justice System in a range of settings including prisons, approved premises, high-security psychiatric hospitals, secure units and community justice initiatives. Within the prison estate, we work in categories A, B and C with men, women and young offenders. We have a contract with HM Prison and Probation Service to work, as part of the PD Pathway, in all Psychologically Informed Planned Environments (PIPEs) and in 2016 secured the contract to deliver Shared Reading sessions in all prisons in Northern Ireland.

Informal weekly sessions provide the opportunity to listen, emphasis and share reflections, giving offenders and ex-offenders new ways to tell their stories and move towards secondary desistance.

“I’ve been in here for – it’ll be 28 years in 3 days. And to be honest, this is the best part of my week. This makes you feel human.”

Shared Reading group member, Cat. A prison

The improved mental well-being and increased motivation for education which result from Shared Reading groups enable offenders to unlock their potential.

In line with the recommendations of Dame Sally Coates’s Review of Education in Prison, our work combines aspects of high quality creative arts provision and Personal and Social Development, providing opportunities for offenders to “improve self-knowledge, develop self- confidence and therefore help tackle reoffending.”

In a supportive environment staff and offenders work together free from roles and expectations. Our work enables improvements in health and changes in behaviour. These can underpin other health provisions and help tackle challenges such as substance abuse.

Shared Reading can contribute to the way in which prisons become places of reform, where offenders can change their lives and turn away from crime. Our packages can be tailored to suit the needs of different environments and include Reader staff-led delivery and training packages.

Back to Top


An Evaluation of a Pilot Study of a Literature-Based Intervention with Women in Prison

This study, carried out by the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool, investigated the effect of Shared Reading on women in HMP Low Newton.

Read the full report

Four significant areas of improved well-being were found:

Social Well-being

  • The group encouraged greater integration of women on the Personality Disorder wing.
  • The group provided women with a sense of support and increase in personal confidence.
  • The group promoted respect for others’ views, tolerance of conflict or disagreement.
  • The group enhanced social and communications skills.

Emotional / Psychological Well-being

The group provided ‘disciplined relaxation’ – structured activity which acted as an escape from personal worries through absorption in the literature.

The voluntary nature of the group meant that:

  • women were motivated and committed to attend regularly and
  • the group encouraged strong mental and emotional engagement.

Educational Well-being

The group attracted women with a range of abilities, particularly helping those who lacked literacy skills, but also attracting high achievers for whom there is often little provision in prisons.

Organisational Well-being

Staff had their expectation of prisoners challenged by the demonstrable commitment and motivation to attend the groups, as well as members’ willingness to tackle ‘difficult’ books.

Not only are they may be better able to explain themselves to us, but they are more they’re able to sit and listen to somebody else.

Staff Member, HMP Low Newton

Back to Top

Share this page: