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West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock is taking his dyslexia screening campaign to prisons

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Ever since I was first elected to Parliament over a decade ago now, I’ve wanted to do more to work on improving literacy levels and increase support for children who are dyslexic, and especially those who may have struggled or been disheartened by their experiences while at school.

My chance to tackle this subject has been limited in recent years due to the policy remit of my ministerial duties.

Now, as a backbencher, I can choose what to focus on in Parliament, and so finally this month I could get stuck in with the launch of my bid to make universal screening for dyslexia in primary school law.

Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock

The campaign has passed its first test in the legislative process in parliament and it will be back on the floor of the House of Commons for a second reading in the new year.

As a dyslexic myself, this subject has always been important to me, and now I have the chance to address it. It’s important not just in schools, but also in our prisons.

Earlier this month, I visited Highpoint Prison, in West Suffolk, which under the leadership of Steve Philips is championing the push to improve literacy amongst inmates.

It’s difficult work, and there are endless challenges – made harder by Covid – but vital due to its importance in helping offender find fulfilling work outside of criminal activity and closing the revolving door of crime

Although one in 10 people in the UK have dyslexia, dyslexics make up an estimated 50 per cent of the prison population. It seems frustration in young people, especially within undiagnosed dyslexics, who do not understand why they cannot succeed through normal channels, is often the cause of these high numbers. So we need to do more to support offenders to read and write better, and we need to support prisons to make that help available.

On the same day I launched my campaign in Parliament for screening for dyslexia in schools, the Government published a White Paper on the future of Prisons, including the commitment to screening for literacy among inmates.

This should, in my view, include screening for dyslexia in all prisons across the country, to help us understand why people fall into a life of crime and how we may help them escape from this negative spiral.

Highpoint is leading the way on this and has utilised a range of digital tools which allows prisoners to learn in their own time. One of these tools are specially designed laptops from the Suffolk-based company Coracle Inside, whose technology is designed to help inmates learn key skills and find direction in their learning based on what they want to achieve upon their release. This empowerment, which looks to give the confidence to make a better life, seems to me to be a constructive way of supporting people wanting to leave a life of crime behind and encourage those who might not have thought it possible.

Schemes like this will not only benefit the individual, but wider society, through reduced re-offending and all the benefits associated with helping people realise their potential. And the optimistic side of things is this: not only do dyslexics make up half of offenders, but they also provide the UK with 40% of our most successful entrepreneurs, showing there are two sides to the coin and the heights that can be reached with the right support and drive.

In my view it benefits everyone – offenders and wider society alike – to change the prison experience from a revolving door of crime into a machine for social and economic rehabilitation.

Proper understanding and addressing of criminal rehabilitation is not so much a complex moral proposition about how we deal with our ‘bad eggs’; but an economically and socially responsible plan which improves living standards on a variety of metrics for offenders and wider society. And at the heart of this is understanding peoples’ educational needs, to help set people on a better path. I’m glad that here in West Suffolk we are leading the way on this approach, and that we can make sure we give people the chances they need to succeed.

-- Matt Hancock is MP for West Suffolk