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New research provides evidence that Shared Reading delivers positive change for individuals in prisons and probation services

Written by Maisie Jeynes, 16th November 2022

The Reader runs Shared Reading groups in all kinds of settings, including schools, hospitals, care homes, prisons and approved premises. Research shows that Shared Reading improves wellbeing, reduces loneliness and helps us find new meaning in our lives.  Currently, The Reader delivers Shared Reading groups in 31 criminal justice settings, including prisons and approved premises in probation services. We share plays, poetry, short stories and novels from around the world - if it's got human content, we're reading it. Recent favourites have included Kei Miller, Jackie Kay, Charles Bukowski, Lemn Sissay, Thomas Hardy and Kae Tempest.

Last month, the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service published an independent evaluation of our Shared Reading work in PIPES (Psychologically Informed Planned Environments) carried out by Professor Alison Liebling and her team at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge. PIPEs are specifically designed, contained environments where staff members have additional training to develop an increased psychological understanding of their work. This understanding enables them to create an enhanced safe and supportive environment, which can facilitate the development of those who live there.

Shared Reading groups are offered weekly in all prison PIPEs and aim to provide opportunities for PIPE participants to engage socially, communicate more effectively, and make meaningful sense of themselves and others. 

‘Out of all the groups we do, this is the one where they feel most together... They can show their vulnerability – I don’t think we have that in any other group.’ HMPSS Officer on Shared Reading 

The evaluation team developed a new research tool, 'Measuring the Experience of Reading Groups' (MERG) survey as part of this work. The MERG is intended to provide a way of measuring nuanced aspects of the Shared Reading experience which might contribute to growth or positive change, based on qualitative feedback – more details of the 10 dimensions of Shared Reading that were measured are included in the report. 

The key findings of the evaluation were as follows:  

  1. The quantitative results showed that those who attended Shared Reading groups scored statistically significantly higher compared to other members on the wing in relation to wellbeing, hope, agency and self-efficacy, and interpersonal trust. The more sessions participants attended, the higher their scores on hope, motivation to change, interpersonal trust, and relationships with staff. 
  2. The Shared Reading groups experienced positive change, that closely aligned with the overall aims of PIPEs. Aspects of the group that were most highly valued included its continuity and weekly regularity, the ways in which it ‘brought the outside in’, and the way that participants could enjoy the activity for its own sake, rather than being instrumentally therapeutic or rehabilitative. Shared Reading groups showed the ability to help participants develop new habits of, or capabilities for, communication and reflection. 
  3. This study found statistically significant, measurable positive outcome results for the effects of Shared Reading in a prison setting. Shared Reading contributed to the overall ethos and aims of PIPEs by developing new habits of, or capabilities for, communication and reflection. 

The distinctive qualities of Shared Reading – being read to, reading aloud, and sharing literature – made a unique contribution to participants’ experience. It also made an important contribution to PIPE staff competence, especially through the Reader Leader training and experience of leading groups (one Prison Officer commented that it had been the ‘best training for working on the PIPE’ that he had had). Shared Reading groups were regarded very positively by participants, and engagement with literature in this ‘shared’ and open way was described as highly meaningful. 

We're pleased to see the impact of our work in PIPEs evidenced through this study . If you're interested in hearing more about our Shared Reading services in PIPEs, or more widely in mental health and community settings, please email Kate Bramhall, Criminal Justice Programmes Manager at or Helen Wilson, Head of Adult Shared Reading Programmes at 

Please see Enabling features of Psychologically Informed Planned Environments 2013 from National Offender Management System for more information about PIPEs. 

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