A CHARITY set up by a Benfleet family to help cut reoffending rates in prisons could also help revolutionise the whole approach to people’s learning!
A dynamic new CIO The Cascade Foundation is headed by Jackie Hewitt-Main, an amazing lady with big ideas that aim to totally change our thinking with regard to people with “learning difficulties”.
As a severe dyslexic herself, with a son also dyslexic and a younger son with severe head injury, Jackie has first-hand experience of what life’s like when you’re branded “stupid” and have to struggle with an ineffective educational system for much of your life.
Jackie, who is a qualified special educational needs teacher, was not diagnosed until aged 40 when she went back into education. “After years of struggling, it was an epiphany moment for me when I was diagnosed. It is easy to believe you are stupid because you have trouble reading and writing, when actually you are not stupid, you just learn differently from how you were made to try and learn in the classroom”.
In 2006 Jackie set up a successful pilot project in Chelmsford Prison which was largely attributed to a stark drop in reoffending rates among those who took part.
The national average reoffending rate for prisoners within one year of their release is 50 per cent but, of the prisoners released at the end of Jackie’s scheme, only 6 per cent went on to reoffend.
The impact of these results was not only on reoffending but the prisoner cost and savings to tax payers and the successful re-instatement of ex-offenders into society.
Jackie says: “If we can diagnose dyslexics in prisons properly, help them come to that realisation and give them the basic reading and writing skills they need to interact with society when they are released, it gives them a real opportunity to turn their lives around.”
The project addressed the literacy levels of offenders through a revolutionary programme of diagnosis and education using innovative methods including specialist software and multi-sensory techniques – all delivered through a mentoring support scheme for a team of offenders (& prison officers) that resulted in some of them achieving teaching qualifications and taking the scheme on to other prisons, on their release.
Now with parliamentary backing, the full support of the OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations) who are accrediting the mentoring/coaching programme, Manchester College, The Cascade Foundation are about to undertake a new trailblazing project in HMP Doncaster.
The charity has been set up in conjunction with Benfleet councillor Andrew Sheldon, who suffers from dyslexia, and Hadleigh-based artist Karen Osman. The charity has the full support of Jackie’slocal MP Rebecca Harris who hosted the launch in the Houses of Parliament in June 2013. Eminent speakers included Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, who commented:“The fact that what Jackie did was to find people who had been in the criminal system their whole lives and couldn’t even write a letter, is an indication of the challenge we face, that we do need to recognise that within our prisons there are very specific challenges that can be addressed and can be turned round. Dyslexia is very clearly one of them.”
In conjunction with the programme inside the prison, Transition Centres will be set up to continue the programme outside the prison giving help, support, education and training to day release prisoners, ex-offenders and the community. The lack of such vital practical support is cited as the primary cause for re-offending and a barrier to ex-offenders integrating back into society.
The Cascade Foundation is also planning to open other, more community focussed, support centres – one of the first being in Jackie’s home area of Benfleet, Essex.
This resource centre will provide information advice and guidance on dyslexia and associated conditions for parents & educationalists or anyone wishing to learn and understand more.
Services will include better diagnosis, effective teaching methods and health & wellbeing encompassing nutrition (Jackie is a firm believer that what we eat has a huge impact on behaviour). In addition there will be a cafe and ‘drop-in’ area, a resource retail area, advice and information centre and areas for training and education including computing technology and software related to learning.
The Centre will also offer encouragement for young people and their families (having to deal with learning difficulties) to remain successfully in education; young adults to look at business projects they may not have thought possible; those failing in business due to difficulties with things like tax or insurance; and older people that may have little or no knowledge of technology but wish to know more.