Reading

Reading has been of interest to many because of its centrality to the educational goal. Brunner (1993) argued that associations between academic failure and delinquency are “welded to” reading failure. His interviews with reading instructors led him to conclude that reading failure is most likely a cause, not just a correlate, of “the frustration that can and does result in delinquent behavior” (p. 6). Brunner (1993) predicted “stormy weather” using the barometer of recidivism rates as a reflection of the success of correctional institutions. “On average,” he writes, “incarcerated juvenile offenders are severely crippled readers” (p. 11). In the 1970s, Project Read reported that 15-year-old juvenile offenders were reading at an average of a 4th grade level-with a full 38% scoring below that. In the 1980s, Finn, Stott, and Zarichny (1988) reported that 43% of their sample of youngsters who appeared in juvenile court were reading two or more years behind grade level. Archwamety and Katsiyannis (2000) found that recidivism rates were higher among those male juvenile inmates who had been placed in a remedial reading program than controls. While reading disabilities occur at an estimated rate between 2.5% and 7.5% in the general population and estimates among offender populations vary because of differences in definitions, there seems to be no disagreement that reading disability is more common among offenders than it is in the general population-perhaps close to 40% (e.g., Shelley-Tremblay, O’Brien, & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2007).

An early discussion of this topic by Rutter and Yule (1970) provides some thoughts about why reading disabilities would be associated with delinquency (Shelley-Tremblay, O’Brien, & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2007). Reading problems may cause school frustration and low self-esteem which can lead to antisociality. Or it may be that behavioral problems are the source of the problem, interfering with motivation and ability to learn skills such as reading. The ambiguity of causal ordering has not been resolved. Some have observed that reading problems and conduct problems exhibit a fair amount of stability, and both typically begin in the preschool years; therefore, some authors argue that poor reading achievement and delinquency have a reciprocal relationship (Brunner, 1993; Morgan, Farkas, Tufis, & Sperling, 2008). While some studies have found longitudinal associations where learning disabilities predict risk-taking behavior (e.g., McNamara & Willoughby, 2010), others have also found that antisocial behavior predicts reading problems (e.g., Morgan et al., 2008). In Chapter 4, we explained how verbal ability appears to have a special association with violence. Some have argued that associations between reading problems and delinquency are likely to be due to early language delay or attention problems (Shelley-Tremblay et al., 2007).

 
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