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Prison literacy programme aims to connect families

News Release

Prison literacy programme aims to connect families

PALMERSTON NORTH – Children will join their fathers in Wanganui Prison as part of a Massey University family literacy and learning project – that may be extended other prisons throughout the country if successful.

Adult literacy researcher Dr Franco Vaccarino, from of the Department of Communication and Journalism, says children will visit the prison to spend one-on-one time reading books with their fathers.

“We are encouraging reading between parent and child. We want the father and child to bond through sharing books and other literacy activities.”

Overseas research has shown that inmates who spend more time with their families have much better post-release success, he says.

“Children will spend quality time with the parent that they wouldn’t normally get, and learn at the same time.”

A family learning programme is currently being run at a local primary school, and a similar programme is due to start at the prison in September or October. The University’s project team and the Corrections Department are working out a schedule for the visits.

The programme had never been done before in New Zealand, but would be developed if it proved successful, Dr Vaccarino says.

The programme will be offered to Year 1 and 2 pupils who have fathers in prison.

Dr Vaccarino, who has prior experience working in prisons, will run workshops for fathers on how to share books and literacy activities with their children.

“The children will each choose a book to share with their fathers, and fathers will also select a book for the half-hour sessions,” he says.

Dr Vaccarino will observe the sessions and collect feedback from fathers, children and prison staff.

"Individuals who are in prison are not just inmates – they are still parents,” he says. “When a child’s parent is incarcerated, that child’s life is turned upside down. It is difficult to ascertain exactly what the effects on children are, but what is certain is that it can be traumatic and have lifelong effects. Visiting a parent in prison is important, as it can calm children’s fears. They see that Dad is alright and that he still loves them.”

Dr Vaccarino says results from the prison family literacy and learning programme will be available early next year.

The family literacy and learning programmes are part of the larger Literacy and Employment Project, running in Wanganui since 2004. The University and the Wanganui District Library are partners in the project. The larger project’s objectives are to examine the learning needs of adults and look at learning and employment barriers they face. The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology funded the $2 million research project. It is led by Associate Professor Frank Sligo of the Department of Communication and Journalism.


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