The Link Between Low Literacy and Crime

The inability to read and write well may not be a direct cause of criminal behaviour, but low literacy and crime are related.

Daily life is harder for people with low literacy, so they are more likely to feel frustrated and dissatisfied. People with low literacy skills usually have equally inadequate problem-solving skills.

People who have low literacy skills tend to be less active citizens than other people. They are less likely to get involved in community activities like sports, school groups, church groups, and so on. As a result, they often feel isolated and vulnerable, and many of them feel like outcasts.

This may partly explain why people who have low literacy are statistically more likely to be involved in crime – either as the offender or the victim. It may also help to explain why crime rates are higher in neighbourhoods where a high percentage of people have low literacy.

Low literacy in Canadian jails and prisons

Some statistics:

Inmates who have low literacy are less likely to use the services available to them, like meeting with a Community Services Officer. They are also less able to benefit from the life skills and rehabilitative programs offered, or that a judge ordered them to take at sentencing.

Anger management training and drug rehabilitation programs usually involve reading, so these programs may not help an offender who has low literacy.