In 2020-2021 Verbal partnered with Ulster University on a project entitled ‘The Reading Rooms programme: a longitudinal evaluation with participants from the criminal justice system.’ The project was led by Professor Mark Shevlin and Dr Orla McDevitt-Petrovic (Ulster University) in partnership with Verbal.

Project Summary:

The aim of the project was to identify and quantify any impact participating in a 12-week ‘Reading Rooms’ programme has on the mental health and wellbeing of adults in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. The report produced for the project noted the importance addressing the mental health of people in the criminal justice system stating: “there is evidence that poorer mental health is associated with contact with the criminal justice system. The Office of National Statistics conducted a survey of psychiatric morbidity among prisoners in England and Wales in 1997 (Coid et al., 2002). The sample of 3,142 prisoners, both sentenced and remand, and use of validated diagnostic measures made this the most compressive mental health survey of UK prisoners. The results showed that the prevalence of all categories of psychological disorders were much higher for prisoners compared to the general population.” (Shevlin & McDevitt-Petrovic, 2021).

The project involved the delivery and evaluation of a 12-week shared reading programme for people in the criminal justice system aimed at improving mental health and emotional wellbeing.

The report on the project concluded: “The outcomes from this qualitative study have indicated several perceived benefits for those in the criminal justice system who have participated in the Reading Rooms programme. Specifically this refers to the opportunity to meet personal needs, the opportunity to develop interest in literature and to improve literacy skills, enhanced emotional wellbeing, broadened perspectives, and improved communication skills” (Shevlin & McDevitt-Petrovic, 2021).