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Illiteracy is strong indicator of future incarceration



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SALT LAKE CITY -- KSL and other Deseret Media Companies have launched an initiative to help Utah children read before the third grade. Few things will improve their lives, or ours, more than if we "Read Today."

"If we don't provide them with that foundation skill, we basically sentence them to a life we don't even want to think about," says Mark Willes, CEO of Deseret Media Company.

That statement is not far from the truth. KSL News went to the state prison to learn firsthand the consequences of not learning to read.

Many inmates learn to read through the prison's South Park Academy program. The skill helps keep them out of prison once they are released.
Many inmates learn to read through the prison's South Park Academy program. The skill helps keep them out of prison once they are released.

For inmate Diana Bacon, drug crimes got her hard time. But she'll tell you dropping out at the seventh grade, due to poor reading skills, is the underlying reason she's here.

"I've regretted it, regretted it my whole life," Bacon says. "I looked at all my old friends that I went to school with, and they're really gone places. You can't do anything without a high school diploma or GED."

Inmate Timothy Nielson is behind bars for felony forgery. He came to prison at a second-grade reading level.

"The thinking errors involved in what I did are tremendous. The lack of education was huge, because I wasn't able to make good choices," Nielson says.

Their stories aren't unusual. More than 70 percent of the inmates at Point of the Mountain are illiterate.

Meanwhile, the State Office of Education reports that boys who are dropouts -- often because they lack reading skills -- are 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers who graduated from college.

That's not to oversimplify a cause and effect, but clearly the link between literacy and prison time is a strong one.

"I didn't have to go down the road I went down. I had options," Bacon says.

Bacon has finally learned to read through the prison's South Park Academy program. That will help keep her out of prison once she is released.

"Our recidivism rate of inmates coming back is only 14 percent, where the national average is 60 percent," says Lory Curtis, principal of South Park Academy.

She'll need those odds; since we spoke to Inmate Bacon, she's served her sentence and is working to make a fresh start.

That is just one reason we're encouraging every Utahn to "Read Today." For more information on our reading initiative, CLICK HERE.

E-mail: dwimmer@ksl.com

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Nadine Wimmer

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