Reading for Recovery

Empowering a prison community to reconnect, recover and learn new skills.

The challenge 

His Majesty’s Prison in Perth is a category A (maximum security) prison in central Scotland, housing a diverse group of people serving varying lengths of sentences. 

Adverse mental health experiences and high levels of exposure to addiction and violence have often resulted in exclusion from traditional learning in early life. It is therefore an urgent priority to offer prisoners access to resources and training to help achieve their potential and has scope to impact beyond, to family and social connections.

The initiative

Together with Culture Perth and Kinross a charitable trust managing libraries, Perth Museum and Perth Art Gallery the prison library is developing a new pilot Reading for Recovery initiative with prisoners to help tackle some of the complex needs of the prison community.

By providing resources and workshops from educators, facilitators and creatives, the challenge team is working together with prisoners to improve their wellbeing and help them to reintegrate into society. The goal is to help tackle some of the inequalities and lack of literacy skills often stemming from negative experiences within early learning settings and exacerbated by economic disadvantage.

Drawing on direct feedback gathered from prisoners who use the library, the Recovery Hub Officer has built a popular Reading Group activity into the prison’s weekly diary of activities. The initiative has featured regularly on the prison’s radio and Reading Group members themselves are acting as advocates for the Reading Challenge, with new participants signing up daily. Each participant receives the gift of a dictionary.

What’s next?

The challenge team is also planning to set up a Vocational Training Hub that will double as a venue for speakers, offering a completely unique library-coordinated community experience.

The powerful impact of taking part in a Reading Group or Reading Challenge needs to be guaranteed through the continued financing of staff time to host, steer and select as well as buy stock. Collaborative working between the current team and national/international prison librarian networks through sharing of good practice is becoming stronger, as the team takes time to celebrate each achievement by a member of the prison community.

The challenge team said: “Our programme will have a positive impact on prisoners’ wellbeing, improving relationships with peers, families and when accessing other agencies and services upon release.”


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