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Literacy: Preventing Crime Before It Starts

preventing crime

preventing crimeLiteracy: Preventing Crime Before It Starts

Imagine getting a job, advancing your career, and contributing positively to society if you can’t read or write. Not likely. Rather, your life would be a constant struggle. As today’s job market requires increasingly technological skills, your options would diminish in direct proportion. If you cannot read, write and spell, you simply cannot compete productively in today’s world.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Census, a full one-third of Americans find themselves in this situation, and many of those turn to a life of crime to survive. The link between the illiteracy and crime has been well established by numerous studies, prompting us to ask the obvious and provocative question:

Can Learning to Read Reduce Crime?

We say yes, and offer the following research as proof. Further, we offer the best possible methods for teaching students – of any age – to read, write and spell, through phonics-based teaching.

Poor Education and Crime,” a report published in 1996 by the National Center for Policy Analysis, states, “Experts have concluded that illiteracy is a large contributor to delinquency, and that fact holds vast implications for those concerned about the approaching ‘bloodbath’ of crime forecast by demographers for the next decade. School reforms now could help children to read better and stem the approaching maelstrom of delinquency.”

 The one-third of Americans who cannot read, “makes less money, suffers from preventable health conditions and spends more time in prison,” writes Scott Morgan for U.S. 1 crime

Literacy Behind Bars, ” a study published by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2003, compared literacy between adults in prison and adults living in households. “In every age group examined,” states the report, “incarcerated adults had lower average prose, document, and quantitative literacy than adults in the same age group living in households.”

 The same holds true for juveniles. Rather than becoming contributing members of society, young people who cannot read face social and economic barriers and are often doomed to a life of crime.

Researcher Michael S. Brunner links juvenile imprisonment to sustained frustration from the inability to learn to read. His recommendation: teach phonics. Click to Tweet 


 After a two-year study of the causes of imprisonment of juveniles, Brunner concluded that the cause was “sustained frustration” from the inability to learn to read in public schools. His recommendation: teach a complete multi-sensory phonetic reading method, such as the Spalding Method.

Michael S. Brunner is a teacher trainer, former research fellow at the U.S. Department of Justice and author of Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential, a book on the relationship between juvenile crime and illiteracy.

preventing crime Phonics-Based Teaching is Effective for All Ages & Abilities

Born from a desire to help dyslexic and learning-challenged students, phonics has proven to be the most effective method for teaching language arts to students of all ages and abilities.

Studies from the U.S. Department of Education, University of York’s Institute for Effective Education, National Institutes of Health, and others, bear out the fact that phonics is more effective to teach reading, writing and spelling than the whole language (see-say) method (see resources below). In addition to these, Michael S. Brunner, author of Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential, reminds us that, “Children do not come to school not wanting to learn to read. It’s the first thing they want to do. It opens society, socially and economically, to a person.”

One student, one classroom, and one school district at a time, we can end illiteracy and the life of crime that is its legacy.


• Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential, by Michael S. Brunner

• “Literacy Behind Bars, ” by the National Center for Education Statistics

• “Poor Education and Crime,” National Center for Policy Analysis

National Reading Panel (Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the U.S. Department of Education)

• “What Works for Struggling Readers,” University of York’s Institute for Effective Education

• “Was Orton Right? New Study Examines How The Brain Works In Reading; Offers Key To Better Understanding Dyslexia,” Science Daily for National Institutes of Health

• “UH Study Endorses Phonics Approach in Teaching Young Students to Read,” by Carolyn Saunders, Scholars for Life

photo credit: conner395 via photopin cc
photo credit: Wonderlane via photopin cc

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About Kyla Cheney

Kyla Merwin is a freelance writer, editor and blogger. She writes about travel, pets, phonics, and people, with credits in regional and national magazines, and scattered throughout webpages everywhere. She writes for the travel & recreation website, Northwest Road Tripper [], and serves as the executive director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association. Her first book, "Lost & Found in Egypt" [] was released in September 2103. She lives and writes in Bend, Oregon. (Photo Credit: Joseph Eastburn)

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