Families United through the Love of Literacy

The F.U.L.L. (Families United through the Love of Literacy) program was implemented at the Berkshire County House of Corrections from 2013 through 2015 with the intention of increasing literacy rates among incarcerated individuals and their children, and decreasing recidivism rates. The program utilized a combination of literacy and multi media tools to integrate short-term inmates with their children and families.

According to the Department of Justice, nationwide there are 2.3 million people in federal, state and local prisons. More than 700,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year and more than 9 million from local jails. The national three-year recidivism rate is 50%.

“I hadn’t seen my daughter in months and was contemplating if she’d be better off without me. I fought back feelings of loneliness, confusion and abandonment. Doing drugs, selling them and violence got in the way of my ability to be a father to my daughter. She would cry and throw a fit when I’d hold her. When my daughter first got the DVD of me she was amazed. Daddy was “in the TV” reading her a book. Since then she loves to play with me during visits and she says she loves me; it’s amazing. The toughest thing is watching your kid walk out after a visit. At least I can give her a little piece of Daddy. F.U.L.L. helped me more than I thought it would – it helped me reconnect with my daughter.” – Michael Sitko, F.U.L.L. Participant – Berkshire County House of Corrections.

Illiteracy and crime are closely related. Eighty-five percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Statistics show that children who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or the recipient of welfare. Additionally, over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade.

Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison when enrolled in a literacy program, as opposed to 70% who receive no support. These statistics equate to a total taxpayer cost of $25,000 annually per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.

The F.U.L.L. program was created as a means to reconnect incarcerated parents with their children through literacy. By using the F.U.L.L. five step program, incarcerated parents were educated about the importance of reading to their child and the role they could still play, even while incarcerated.

“My wife tells me that my son will not go to bed without ‘DADDY’S BOOK’. My wife also says that since receiving the book his ability to speak in full sentences has dramatically increased.” – Mike Williams, F.U.L.L. Participant – Berkshire County House of Corrections.

Parents were recorded reading one of Ty’s books. The DVD recording, along with a customized book and t-shirt, were sent to the family or caregiver of the child. As a result, children of incarcerated adults had access to this recording whenever they wanted to hear a bedtime story from their parent. This program aimed to provide participants with a legitimate pathway to reestablishing his or her parental responsibilities.

Besides allowing the children to connect with their parents in a unique way, F.U.L.L. exposed them to the importance of literacy and assisted in severing the cycle of incarceration for future generations. The bond between the participant, child and family that this program created helped ease the challenge of transitioning back into life outside of jail.

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Ty Allan Jackson