The Little Readers Program
Georgia has the fifth largest prison population in the nation, but lags near the bottom in literacy rates. Two-thirds of Georgia’s children have a reading level lower than that of the nation as a whole and are not as proficient in reading as they should be, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The average reading level of a Georgia inmate is fifth grade. Low literacy and high incarceration go hand in hand in Georgia.
Studies show that poor students are more likely to have weaker reading skills due to limited access to books and because their parents spend less time reading with them. This is particularly true among children of incarcerated parents in Georgia; 80% live at or below the poverty level.
According to the American Bar Association, over 60% of parents in state prisons are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their home. The cost and transportation issues required for children to have one on one visits with their parents are often prohibitive. More than half of inmates have never had an in-person visit with their child. Prison can make relationships nearly impossible. It is a fact that reading to a child promotes language acquisition and is linked with literacy development, reading comprehension, and overall success in school. The percentage of young children read to daily by a family member is one indicator of how well a child is prepared for school. Having a parent in prison decreases the likelihood of being read to as a child.
The Little Readers program allows children to see and hear their incarcerated parent or grandparent reading to them via DVD. The goal of the Little Readers program is three-fold: 1) ease children's anxieties about their parent's absence; 2) empower incarcerated parents to continue their parental involvement and invest in their children’s academic futures so that kids can thrive; and 3) promote a culture of literacy in families impacted by incarceration. HeartBound leads workshops for inmates, teaching them about the importance of reading to a child, how to choose appropriate books, how to read aloud, and how to communicate and bond with their child while reading together. At the end of the workshop, inmates (in free world shirts) are recorded reading a book they have chosen for their child(ren). The book and personalized read-aloud DVD are sent to the home via HeartBound, along with literacy/nutritional resources, a handmade bookmark from the parent, a postcard, and more. Children can watch the DVD and read along repeatedly, providing valuable and continual connections with their parent while promoting literacy and book access. The DVDs also help decrease children's fears about their parent's absence and feel more secure, allowing them to focus outwardly again, towards family, friends and school. The Little Readers Book Club places children’s books in 38 prison visitation rooms and provides incentives for children to read along with their parent during prison visits.