Reading Aloud Helps Incarcerated Parents’ Relationships With Their Children

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Reading Aloud

As many students across the world continue to learn virtually, reading aloud is an important education tool. In an article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 7, 2021, test data collected from schools across the United States show that second and third graders were 30 percent behind expectations in their ability to read aloud.

In a 1985 report by the National Academy of Education, reading aloud was the most important factor in a child’s educational success later in life. Since this initial study, there have been countless studies supporting the benefits of reading aloud to children.

Parenting while incarcerated can feel nearly impossible. Incarcerated parents miss out on the sports games, music recitals, and the school dances that shape a child’s life and bedtime stories. For many incarcerated parents, reading aloud programs are about repairing and maintaining the already strained bonds with their children on the outside. This is even more important now as the pandemic limited access to family members behind bars, although some places are easing their restrictions.

Reading Aloud

Reading Legacies is a reading aloud program started by a retired teacher that was originally recorded deploying military parents reading to their children. However, the organization changed its focus after it saw a greater need among incarcerated parents.

While Caleb Ester was incarcerated at the Carol S. Vance Unit prison near Richmond, Texas, he participated in the Storybook Dad program, which allowed him to send recordings of him reading aloud to his daughter.

In 2018, he chose to read “The Jungle Book” for his daughter’s 11th birthday. Ester chose the book because his daughter loved animals. After the recording was done volunteers added sound effects to the recording and sent it to his daughter on CD and a copy of the book for her to read along.

His daughter has dyslexia, so it was very important to him to encourage reading. He said the books and recordings were “like a piece of me laying with her.” When his daughter would visit him, she would bring a book for them to read together. He was released in 2019 and currently lives with his mother and daughter in Houston. Ester says he still read aloud to his daughter almost every night.

Black children are nearly twice as likely to have an incarcerated parent than white children. Research has shown that children with incarcerated parents have an increased risk of poverty,  depression, addiction and are six times more likely to end up incarcerated themselves.

According to sociologists parenting education programs improve inmate recidivism in incarcerated parents and self-image in their children. Research also suggests reading programs, in particular, are effective. “We tend to define people by the worst thing they’ve ever done,” said Heath Hoffmann, a sociologist at the College of Charleston who studies the effectiveness of prison programs. “But programs like these help incarcerated people occupy a role other than ‘criminal.”

In 2010 a survey of almost 400 state-run correctional facilities across the country, Dr. Hoffmann found that while 75 percent of women’s facilities offered programs that allowed incarcerated parents to send their children recordings of themselves reading a book compared to 23 percent of men’s facilities.

Most of the wardens in the survey reported that they felt the programs reduced recidivism and made re-entry into society easier for parents, though more research is needed. Maintaining family bonds is more important than ever due to the isolation children have been in because of the global pandemic. The Reading Legacies program has been operating virtually and allowing parents to read to their children over the phone and video chat.

Written by Ebonee Stevenson
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware


New York Times: Storytime Lets Fathers Form Bonds From Behind Bars; by Ludwig Hurtado
Philadelphia Inquirer: COVID-19 has upended education. How will schools solve for learning loss?; by Maddie Hanna, Kristen A. Graham, and Melanie Burney

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Libraries Team’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of peapodsquadmom’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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