Friday, August 28, 2015


Ksenija BUTORAC3

1 Ministry of the Interior, General Police
2 University of Zagreb, Faculty of Education
and Rehabilitation Sciences, Department of
3 Ministry of the Interior, Police College

Recived: 25.09.2014
Accepted: 01.12.2014
Original article

Citation: Bagarić Z, Mikšaj-Todorović Lj, Butorac K. Guided reading programme for prisoners: an outcome-oriented approach. J Spec Educ Rehab 2015; 16(1-2): 85-104. doi: 10.1515/JSER-2015-0006


Background and settings

This paper is part of a wider pilot-study which has two purposes: (a) to establish a cooperation model between public libraries and the prison system in Croatia and (b) to introduce a Guided Reading Programme as a regular rehabilitation programme for inmates. The first rehabilitation guided reading programme was designed and conducted on a small sample of prisoners. Its verification will serve as the basis for the prospective development of new reading-based rehabilitation programmes, as well as an appropriate research evaluation methodology.
The aim of this study was to compare the results of two groups of inmates on the Verbal and Communication Skills, Transcendental Insight and Improving Reading Habits scales (hereinafter: the VTR scales), at the beginning and at the end of the above mentioned programme in the Croatian prison system. The base for some of the variables of the VTR scales was the erbal Reticence Test (1972), by Myron Lustig (1), whose variables were adapted to a certain extent to the goals of this research by the author of the Guided Reading Programme (2). The first group participated in the programme activities, in contrast to the second group, who, however, agreed to complete the scales. Better results were expected from the group participating in the Guided Reading Programme.

Croatia: State of Play

Execution of prison sentences in Croatia is based on a rehabilitation approach (3) which presumes individualisation of sentences through individual imprisonment programmes and a number of general (work, leisure time and education) and specialised treatment programmes for selected groups of prisoners (e.g. anger management; treatment of alcohol and drug addiction; responsible parenting; for traffic offenders etc.). All these activities enhance pro-social behaviour, i.e. the quality of the social interaction as their prolonged implementation assists the easier resolution and liberation from deviant behaviour and elimination of unacceptable forms of behaviour. However, no systematic work with adult prisoners based on reading therapy had been recorded in Croatia, either at the initiative of local libraries or by professional services in prisons. On the other hand, although approximately 15% of prisoners use library services, the results of the research on the conditions in the Croatian prison system (4) show that, due to lack of space, equipment and professional staff, the poor scope of modern library services, and the lack of cooperation with public libraries, prison libraries cannot be equal activity leaders for the purpose of prisoner rehabilitation (5).

Reading therapy in the penal environment

Since the 1960s prison libraries have been laboratories for implementation of literary text for therapeutic purposes. The reference overview showed a certain number of bibliotherapy programmes, i.e. guided reading programmes implemented in prisons (in the USA: (6–9); in Europe: J (10, 11) in the context of work with prisoners, in order to increase understanding and evaluate other peoples’ opinions, enhance positive expression skills and develop empathy and sensibility. An example of a successful alternative to prison is the Massachusetts bibliotherapy programme: Changing Lives through Literature (CLTL), developed in the 90s by the English literature professor, Robert Waxler and probation judge, Robert Kane. Primarily aimed at juvenile prisoners, but it can also be applied to adult delinquents. The frequency of participation is monitored by the Probation Centre, and the programme consists of literature seminars designed to reinforce the prisoner's cognitive abilities and moral sensitivity. Students, probation judges, university professors and even judicial officers attend the group meetings along with the delinquents. In 1998, Jarjoura and Krumholz (7) published a longitudinal study focusing on the participants in the first CLTL programme in New Bedford, Massachusetts, conducted in 1993. They tested two groups, one in the CLTL and the other in a competing programme group. In the CLTL group 18% committed crimes compared to 42% in the non-CLTL group. Apart from the United States, the CLTL programme has been implemented in England since 2000 (11).
However, due to insufficient evaluation of most bibliotherapy programmes for inmates, the positions of scientists regarding the efficiency of the implemented rehabilitation programmes show discrepancy (12–14). The pilot study, of which this paper is a part, has been designed as a quasi-experiment with clearly determined programme activities, sample formation criteria, with monitoring of the results of the participants’ progress. When the research is repeated, it will result in the provision of clear, scientifically-based indicators of the programme.

Reading therapy and literary transfer

On other hand, in the last 50 years there have been a number of innovative programmes related to “education through art and culture”, designed for personal growth and development in order to awaken and increase the creativity and potential talents of readers. Reference books published since 1990 have indicated that there is almost no supporting activity where reading therapy has not been used, with patients/clients of all ages and cultures (15). They have exploited the possibilities for presented or real situations to be seen and experienced in another way, and for conflicts to be resolved in a constructive manner, without personal emotional engagement, or damage to the surroundings. It appears that this method has paved the way to building acceptable lifestyles (6, 7, 16). In the last few decades, researchers and scholars have tried to examine and use literary texts from different perspectives and with different aims. Unfortunately, it is still not clear which basic processes are involved in reading and which fundamental elements produce what is known as literary reception. Speaking of the transformational and therapeutic effects of reading, the process of literary transfer (17) is recognised as a key mechanism of the therapeutic effect of reading a literary text. Empirical studies which show the ways in which reading generates feelings, mental images, cognitive patterns, memories, suppressed events etc., support the thesis of the therapeutic effect of literature (18–20). The initial hypothesis is that reading fiction (and non-fiction) texts leads to therapeutic effects leading to the modification, construction and reconstruction of the reader’s identity (21). In simple terms, the theory of literary reception assumes that reading brings into our consciousness contents that, without the act of reading, might not have had the opportunity to be closely observed. The literary text evokes mental processes of the past, as well as recent events, and in turn provides vital insights. As the reader has the opportunity to follow the characters along the entire path of their psychological maturation, the readers are able to work cathartically through their own problems, as well as increase empathy with others (14, 16, 20 and 21). Cognitive scientists and neuro-linguists are involved in explaining these mechanisms (19, 22). By the use of modern technology (recording cerebral activities through MRI; encephalograms etc.) they report on the activation of olfactory, sensory or motoric cortices (in healthy persons), which occurs during reading sentences with specific contents. For example, if the sentence “John kicked the ball “is read, an MR scan records activity in the motoric cortex responsible for coordination of body movement. It would appear that the brain does not make a sharp distinction between reading about a certain experience and realisation of that experience in real life; since the neural areas stimulated in both cases are largely the same. It has also been established that there is a significant overlapping between the network used in the brain for comprehension of the plot and the network used to conduct interaction with other persons, especially those interactions where we try to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people (23). This ability of the brain to project ourselves into the minds of others — inferring their desires, beliefs, and emotions — is known as possessing a theory-of-mind. Literary works of fiction (novels, short stories), through their imagery, details, metaphors, plots and active descriptions of people and their actions, provide a unique opportunity for usage of such abilities to identify with the yearnings and frustrations of the characters, to guess their secret motifs and observe their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbours and lovers (24). But, how exactly do readers fill in the text's "gaps" to construct a coherent narrative? Zunshine (25) claims that we are predisposed to appreciate works of fiction that encourage us to speculate about other minds, because our brains are structured to attribute goals and intentions to others (she also uses the term Mind-reading). According to Polvinen (26), perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Zunshine’s work is that, among the different aspects of cognition engaged by fiction, emotion comes across as the central element. Novels, of course, are not an adequate medium for the research of human, social, and emotional life. But, there is an evidence that the brain treats interactions between imaginary characters in ways that parallel events from real social life (27).

The Guided Reading Programme with inmates in medium security prisons

For the first time a Guided Reading Programme with inmates in medium security prisons was conducted in the Croatian prison system, in order to verify its usefulness, the possibility of introducing such a programme as a model for prospective cooperation with public libraries located near the prisons. In order to follow the ethical norms for conducting research on adult examinees, the general agreement of the Prison System Administration was acquired as part of the preparatory activities. Informed consent for participation in the study and implementation of the Guided Reading Programme, as well as consent for possible video or audio recording of the Programme’s weekly meetings was obtained from all the participants. During its implementation, a great deal of attention was paid to its integrity, with respect to the principle of rresponsiveness as well. Canadian authors Andrews, Bonta and Hoge (28, 29) describe this principle in detail, and it implies an individual approach to every participant in the programme, regarding their risk assessment and treatment needs. Also in communication with clients, it takes into account the strengths, learning styles, personality, motivation, and bio-social (e.g., gender, race) characteristics of the individual.
The short-term goals of the programme were the following: (a) the introduction of inmates to the new intellectual and aesthetic experience which can fill their leisure time during their prison sentence; (b) increased understanding and valuation of other people's opinions, (c) building reading habits; increasing vocabulary, improving skills in expressing opinions and standpoints; (d) work with inmates in order to develop positive expression skills and increased empathy and sensibility.
The long-term goals of the programme were the following: (a) design and evaluation of the Guided Reading Programme as a special rehabilitation programme for adult inmates in the Croatian prison system, and creating guidelines for cooperation between local libraries and prisons, (b) introduction of inmates to the new intellectual and aesthetic experiences which can fill their leisure time and enrich their lives when they leave prison, (c) further development of reading habits, enriching vocabulary and the ability to express opinions and standpoints; (d) affirmation of a value system which establishes the importance of the role/function of prison libraries; promoting the value of the role of library services and programmes for inmates and prison staff, and raising awareness of the importance of reading in the context of prison libraries.
The key activities of this programme were as follows: (a) The initial measuring point in the NP and P groups, (b) introduction to the concept of the programme; the content and course of the weekly meetings, (c) distribution of literary works that would serve as a basis for discussion and introductory information (Metamorphosis (Kafka, F).;The Stranger (Camus, A.); The Old Man and the Sea(Hemingway, E.); Siddhartha (Hesse, H.); Master and Margarita (Bulgakov, M.), Paolo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim (Aris, J.); The Book of Awakening (Nepo, M.)). Further, (d) discussion: the literary and theoretical framework; problematic framework; interaction, (e) workshops (multimedia approach; newly designed services and strengthening of the role of the prison library, (f) Programme evaluation from P group participants; (g) mutually positive written feedbackfrom all the Programme participants, (h) final measuring point: NP and P groups, (i) appropriate celebration of the Programme implementation finalisation (and attendance certificates).
Group work on every particular literary work was conducted weekly (meetings lasting two hours). A typical weekly meeting would start with a group discussion on the topic and problem framework based on the reading of a certain literary work (its analysis and reception). Within the second meeting held in the same context, a workshop was held. For example, during the discussion on Kafka'sMetamorphosis the participants expressed their views on the following questions: How have you experienced this work? Why? What thoughts / questions arose during the first reading of the book? Which character are you most impressed with? Which character aroused anger in you? Amusement? Disbelief? With whose actions do you / do you not agree? Why/ Why not? What part of the story seems to be plausible? Perhaps you had not previously thought of something in that way? Do you think this book might help you look at some situations / problems in a different light? Do you have any similar experiences? What would you have done in Gregor's place? Can you imagine what the story would look like if it were narrated by some other character?
The workshop consisted of two parts. The participants first responded to a written assignment: How would you envision the plot? The characters’ actions? The end of the story? In the second part, in a search for an answer to the question: “Is the best way to express ourselves in words?”, two interpretations / adaptations of Metamorphosis were shown to the participants: an award-winning German graphic novel (comic) and the ballet "Metamorphosis" performed by the Royal Opera House, by a clip from YouTube. Finally, in order to prepare for the next meeting, copies of another literary work (Camus' Stranger) were distributed.


The participants were medium security prison adult inmates. As this was a study of the situation in their actual conditions, in which it is not possible to fully implement experimental method, the study was conducted as a quasi-experiment as much as possible. The criteria for the selection of the participants in both the study group and the group not involved in the Guided Reading Programme were: completion of four – year secondary school education, preserved cognitive functioning and intrinsic motivation. (In Croatia the four – year secondary school curriculum in literature includes reading and interpretation of literary classics and the works of important contemporary writers). After the prison staff informed all the prisoners (101 prisoners in total at this time) about the possibility of joining the programme and the selection criteria, 29 of them attended the meeting. Two of them did not qualify, and they were asked to leave. After the activities foreseen in the programme had been described to the prisoners in more detail, they were asked to give their opinion on how to participate in the programme depending on whether they wanted to be in the reading (the P group; N = 8), or the non-reading group (the NP group; N = 8). Both groups were completed according to the order of their application. Although there were no other selection criteria for the participants, after the two groups had been formed, they were compared by several other variables: age, level of education, characteristics of the place where they spent most of their life (categories: village; town; city; county centre; capital city) and the type of crime they had been sentenced for. It was shown that there were no statistically significant differences between these variables.

Table 1. Age - testing the significance of differences

Table 1 shows that there were no statistically significant differences between the P group and the NP group in relation to their age (p >r; 0.05).

Table 2. Education, the place where participants spent majority of their lives and the type of criminal offence - testing the significance of differences

It is evident from Table 2 that there were no statistically significant differences between the P group and the NP group in relation to education, place where they lived most of their lives and the type of criminal offence (p > 0.05).
The P group participated in the Guided Reading Programme over a three-month period (from 1st June to 1stSeptember, 2012), in the form of 2-hour weekly group meetings. During that time the NP group was not included in any other programme that would include reading. At the beginning and at the end of the programme, three short research scales (VTR scales) derived from Lustig's Verbal Reticence Test (1) were applied for both the P and NP groups. In total, the scales consisted of 22 variables in the form of statements, describing verbal and communication skills (variables 12-18; 20-22), transcendental insight (variables: 1, 6, 7, 9, 19) and enhancedreading habits (variables: 2-5, 8, 10, 11), where 5 answers were offered for each variable in the form of a scored scale. The lowest score was given to the category I agree completely; and the highest score to the category I disagree completely.The names of the variables are listed in Tables 3 and 5. The scales were applied without validation due to the fact that this was a pilot-study, which will be used to design larger trials (validation of these scales is on-going with 140 undergraduate students, 70 females and 70 males.
Since this study covers small samples, the focus lies on the results acquired directly through measurement in order to obtain information which may be considered valid. The statistical values were used solely to check whether it was possible to obtain any data which would, due to the small samples, confirm the findings acquired by qualitative methods. Namely, the statistical values acquired from small samples are very unstable and the smaller the sample, the larger the error. In these cases, the relation is not linear, but it is proportional to the square root from the sample size, and thus, the difference must be considerably larger than for large samples, in order to be statistically significant(30).
Due to the above, apart from the analysis of the absolute and relative frequencies for every variable used in the paper, the data were processed with non-parametric tests:
  1. The Mann-Whitney test and Chi squared test - for testing the differences between the participants in terms of their age, the level of education, the characteristics of the place where they spent the majority of their lives and the type of crime for which they were serving the prison sentence;
  2. COCHCOX and METDIF1 programmes (30) – for testing the differences between the arithmetic means of small independent samples.
Results and discussion
The results refer to the frequency of responses and the establishment of differences between the arithmetic means of P group and NP group at the initial and final measurement point.
Tables 3 and 4 show the frequency of responses to every variable and the differences between arithmetic means between the P group and the NP group at the initial measurement point.

Table 3. Frequency of answers at the initial measurement point

Table 3 makes it clear that for most variables (variables 1–13, 18, 19 and 21) the P group participants achieved lower results, which as a rule means agreement or partial agreement with the statement. At the same time, it also represents more desirable and healthier self-expression. The majority of NP group participants’ responses show indecisiveness and partial disagreement with the statements (except in variable 21).
For both groups, the results regarding the variables 14-15, 17, 20 and 22 are interesting, where underachievement may be considered as a relatively undesirable characteristic, pointing to the existence of verbal and communication deficiencies. It is visible that every group shows underachievement for 3 of the stated variables, but not the same ones. This result of the P group for the variables 15, 16 and 22 may be explained in the sense that P group participants showed more self-criticism and were more aware of their problems with expression and verbal interaction with others. According to previously established data, their reading experience was more developed as they borrowed books more frequently (variable 23), which shows their willingness to read, develop and improve in that area. Due to this, it may be concluded that a Guided Reading Programme designed in this way, may be of assistance to them. On the other hand, the results presented of the NP group participants for statements 14, 17 and 20, point out their additional emotional difficulties.

Table 4. Differences between arithmetic means at the initial measurement point

By testing the differences between the arithmetic means of the P group and the NP group at the initial measurement point (Table 4), statistically significant differences (p < 0.05) were shown for 6 variables (4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 18), where 5 were on the margin of statistical significance. In those 6 variables, the P group achieved statistically significantly lower values, which means that their statements were characterised as significantly more positive and healthier than the NP group statements. However, although strict statistic parameters only indicate about 6 variables showing P group’s desirable and healthy achievements, it must be stressed that Table 3 indicates such tendencies for many more variables.
Tables 5 and 6 show the frequency of results for every variable and differences between the arithmetic means in the P and NP groups at their final measurement point.

Table 5. Frequency of answers at the final measurement point

It is evident from Table 5 that the P group participants had distinctively more desirable answers - 18, for variables 1-13, 16-18, 21-22. If P group results are observed only in relation to the initial measurement point, there is a slight, desirable shift in variables 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 11 and 12, and a significant shift in variables 8 and 9. The participants showed improvement in relation to understanding other peoples' problems, imagining a different ending of a literary work, the desire to spend their spare time reading, in relation to identification with the life situations of other people, foreseeing the ending in the text being read, the desire to use the services of the prison library, enjoyment in verbal interaction and the desire to volunteer in the library, as well as enjoyment of putting oneself in the situation of the characters from the text.
The less favourable results of the P group for the variables 14, 15, 17, 20 and 22, in relation to the initial measurement point may be assigned directly to the lived-through experience of active participation in the discussions with other participants of the Guided Reading Programme, in the sense that some participants improved their opinion of their realistic ability to express themselves, while some participants were somewhat disappointed about it.

Table 6. Differences between arithmetic means in the final measurement point


The results show that P group participants achieved better results in Verbal and Communication Skills, Transcendental Insight and Improving Reading Habits scales than NP group participants, while they showed significantly better results at the final measurement point. They achieved some progress in all three areas measured by the scales. The participants showed improvement in relation to understanding other peoples' problems, imagining a different ending of a literary work, the desire to spend their spare time reading, in relation to identification with the life situations of other people, foreseeing the ending in the text being read, the desire to use the services of the prison library, enjoyment of verbal interaction and the desire to volunteer in the library, as well as enjoyment of putting oneself in the situation of the characters from the text. As a result of the direct experience of participation in the Guided Reading Programme, some of the P group participants showed a more realistic self-evaluation of their own verbal deficiency. In the context of progress shown by P group participants, based on verification of the programme in other areas (31), these results also show that the short-term goals of the program were fulfilled, which further increases the probability of impact on the long-term goals of the programme. The group who participated in the Guided Reading Programme, in comparison to the group that was not involved in it but who also completed the same scales at the initial and final measurement points, showed better results in relation to their previous reading experience and use of library services at the initial measurement point, and better results at the initial and final measurement points regarding knowledge of terms. Regarding their personal impressions of participation in the programme, they liked discussing literary works, reached new insights and knowledge, and benefited through participation in the programme (31).
Furthermore, as inmates in medium security prisons are serving long term prison sentences, they are also involved in other rehabilitation programmes not including reading, which is particularly true of addicts, who made up the majority in this programme. The results achieved in this programme certainly contribute to the increased quality of their participation in other treatment programmes.
Since a key criterion, apart from graduation from high school and cognitive preservation, was intrinsic motivation for participation in the programme, based on the previous result analysis, it was evident that motivation for participation was connected with their previously developed reading experience. This Programme may be considered as a model, as it contains all the necessary guidelines and may be repeated with new groups of inmates, with adherence to the stated criteria. Furthermore, it contains enough elements which enable it to be adjusted for different types of inmates (e.g. lower educational status, personality characteristics), with adherence to responsive principles.
In addition to these considerations, it is necessary to take into account the wider implications of the establishment and implementation of guided reading programmes with inmates in prison in the domain of the library system, as well as their inter-agency cooperation. In the context of assessing the sustainability of such cooperation established by this pilot - study, the resources and the strengths of all the institutions were analysed earlier in the re-socialisation process (3). The results obtained suggest that the resources and the strengths already exist (relevant regulations, budget provided, the existence of a small number of other evaluated programs, awareness of intellectual property rights and the needs of prisoners, a positive public attitude, etc.).
In addition to redefining the insignificant role, strength and quality of the current Croatian prison libraries, the sustainability of cooperation guarantees the implementation of structural changes in the domain of both systems on a national level. In the domain of the prison system it means establishing the position of - prison librarian-coordinator. In the domain of the profession of librarian including rehabilitation, it means curriculum extension in order to train prison librarian- rehabilitators. The fact that all these changes may be implemented without major financial investment should not be ignored.
Therefore the Guided Reading Programme has been recommended to the Prison System Management as a regular rehabilitation programme in Croatian jails and prisons and its efficacy should be monitored. This involves developing questionnaires with good psychometric characteristics, controlling other variables that can bring about changes (e.g. personality characteristics), repeated measures and extensive follow - up studies.

Conflict of interests
Authors declare that have no conflict of interests.


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