Prisoners’ views on the Shannon Trust Reading Plan

Shannon Trust commissioned User Voice to talk to men and women in prison about why people who struggle with reading don’t choose to try the Shannon Trust Reading Plan. User Voice surveyed residents in 4 prisons and conducted a series of focus groups.

Those consulted were generally receptive to the main features of the programme including;

  • 1-to-1 sessions
  • Conducted in a private space
  • At Learner’s own pace

Participants also highlight obstacles to taking part. These fell into 3 themes:

Personal reasons including confidence, vulnerable mental state and embarrassment.

“Embarrassment… I knew someone who for the entire time I knew them very clued up very smart person but could not read…did not learn to read because they were embarrassed. Could have learnt to but just didn’t want to say I actually can’t read, just would not do it.”

(HMP Northumberland resident)

Prison regimes issues which hindered success were a lack of private space, limited movement across the wings and levels of staff awareness and communication.

“It revolves around the Shannon Trust, but it comes, it links in with every other thing, all the reputation in the jail at that time. If you’re in another jail, a lot of things get done, they’ll try it more, you know what I’m saying because there’s not a lot going, there’s stuff that’s offered in this jail, don’t work out so they think anything else you bring, it ain’t going to work out.”

(HMP Featherstone Resident)

Shannon Trust itself was viewed by some participants as male-centric, old fashioned and needing greater structure and direction. It was also felt that more work could be done to raise awareness of the programme.

“Even the pictures and all that, they’re centred around men so even in the handbook given to the mentors and coordinators and that, it’s all pictures of men teaching men in prisons so it needs to be like, with women in prison.”

(HMP Downview Resident)

Those taking part in the consultation also suggested a number of recommendations for Shannon Trust’s future delivery in prisons.

  • Lessons held during regime time.
  • Suitable private spaces provided for Learners and Mentors
  • Picture based, more visually striking posters
  • Feedback mechanisms in place for Mentors.

Angela Cairns, CEO at Shannon Trust said,

‘The User Voice report has given us a valuable insight into the how we can improve access to Shannon Trust for people in prison. It’s helped us shape our new strategy and put plans in place to make important changes. At the heart of this breaking down the type of barriers raised by the report.’


Mark Johnson, Founder of User Voice, said,

‘User Voice and Shannon Trust both believe that people in prison have a huge amount to offer in improving the criminal justice system, whether that is as a mentor or providing feedback. Shannon Trust recognised the value of having an independent, user-led organisation provide honest feedback on Turning Pages and their commitment to making changes as a result is admirable.’


Read the full report here Prisoners Views on the Reading Plan


About Shannon Trust

Shannon Trust is a national charity supporting people in prison to unlock the power of reading. Prisoners who can read teach prisoners who can’t using Turning Pages, a reading resources developed for adults.

Each year, Shannon Trust trains, supports and inspires thousands of men and women to unlock the power of reading in prisons across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.



About User Voice

User Voice is a charity led by ex-offenders. We are committed to making the criminal justice system work for everyone. We bring change for institutions, individuals and the agenda – by putting users at the heart:

  • Change for institutions: User Voice Councils give decision-makers feedback and solutions from their service users.
  • Change for individuals: with the right opportunity, encouragement and support, everyone can play an influential role in society through User-Led Change.
  • Change in the agenda: bespoke consultations, User Research that give decision makers the opportunity to hear, and act upon, service user insights.


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