REMEDIAL READING RESEARCH WITH DELINQUENTS 1
Education for literacy was made statutory for prisons in Britain in 1823. This action of the British government heralded a century of pronouncements on reading disability as a cause of anti-social and criminal behaviour (e.g. Gates & Bond, 1936; Margolin, 1955; Roman, 1957; Cowie et al., 1968; Critchley, 1970; Rutter & Yule, 1972; Segal, 1973; Palfrey, 1974) and on remedial reading as a means of preventing delinquency (e.g. Margolin et al., 1955; Staats & Butterfield, 1965; Drucker, 1966; Fader, 1966; Halstead, 1970; Gormly & Nittoli, 1971; Carsetti, 1977).
However, recent reviews of the literature on the relationship between learning disability and delinquency and on the association of academic retardation and anti-social behavior have raised important doubts as to the adequacy of the evidence for explanations of crime in terms of educational deficits (Murray, 1976; Offord, 1977).
A recent review of the literature on the relationship between reading disability and crime (Ross, 1977) made it clear that there is an abundance of experiential and anecdotal evidence which indicates that there is an inordinate number of individuals with reading problems in the offender population. However, the evidence, though persuasive, cannot be taken as conclusive. There are major shortcomings in the adequacy of the research in this area which seriously limit the conclusions one can make. It is impossible to obtain an accurate and reliable estimate of the incidence of reading problems in the offender population because investigators have too often failed to standardize their choice of measures and have failed to define clearly the referents for terms such as "illiterate", "reading disabled", "reading handicapped" or even "delinquent". Estimates of functional illiteracy range from 2.4% to 84.6% of the offender populations studied (Ross, 1977).
Most investigators have focused on the incidence of reading difficulties while ignoring the nature of the reading problems. The causes of reading problems are both multiple and complex involving sociocultural, psychological, perceptual, neurological, attitudinal, or instructional factors, among others. However, the research on the reading problems of delinquents seldom pinpoint the nature of their problems and only rarely do investigators report whether they involve problems of comprehension, memory, vocabulary, decoding, abstract reasoning, discrimination or directionality, etc. Instead, typically rather crude measures of reading grade level are made without reference to the area of reading difficulty and without reference to possible sub-skills deficits, and often without adequate consideration of intellectual level.
The literature is replete with controversy as to the directionality of the assumed relationship between illiteracy and crime: is anti-social behavior an effect or a cause of reading problems? The absence of adequate longitudinal studies precludes the possibility of resolving this chicken-egg controversy. However, the single fact that many offenders do not have reading problems and the majority of reading disabled children do not engage in criminal behavior makes it clear that reading disability is nether a necessary nor a sufficient cause of criminal behavior. There are simply too many factors having to do with the individual's biography or socioeconomic environment which intervene.
In the present paper the efficacy of programs designed to improve the reading skills of pre-delinquents and delinquents is examined. Evidence that remedial reading prevents delinquent behavior or leads to the rehabilitation of active delinquents would lend support to the notion of causative link between illiteracy and crime. However, as Palfrey (1974) admonished: "
The materials for the present review were obtained through visits to reading clinics, correspondence with reading specialists, surveys of a sample of correctional settings with ongoing remedial reading programs and extensive bibliographic research (Ross, 1977)2.