MP opens new chapter on prison literacy

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A NORTHUMBERLAND MP has called for a focus on literacy to help reduce prisoner re-offending in his new book.

Guy Opperman believes that one of the main reasons behind the UK’s growing prison population in recent years is because a significant number of inmates are unable to read or write.

As well as calling for the elimination of the drugs culture in prisons, in Doing Time he suggests judges impose literacy courses as part of prison sentences, with offenders required to complete them before release.

The Hexham MP, whose constituency includes Ponteland and Stannington, has taken a strong interest in prison reform and says action is well overdue.

Many of the ideas come from his personal experience as a criminal barrister before he became an MP in 2010. Since his election he has continued his interest in reform of the prison system, visiting some of Britain’s biggest jails such as HMP Durham to meet with governors and staff.

In his book, Mr Opperman writes: “Too often my clients in prison simply could not read or write. It was very humbling.

“Many criminals are released early and we know that attaining this motivates those in jail to behave. If we allow judges to sentence criminals to literacy courses we can harness that motivation to give them the basic skills that will make them less likely to offend again.”

In addition, he is advocating tougher screening of all those who enter or visit prison to try and keep drugs out.

He believes the Government should trial a scheme where everyone entering a jail – from officials to relatives – should be scanned or x-rayed, and if necessary, physically searched. This is something that does not happen at the moment in most prisons.

Mr Opperman is officially launching his book at the Beaumont Hotel, Hexham, on Saturday, December 8.