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Gaol Routine

Classification of Literacy

This article is mainly a straight re-print of chapters from 'Jottings from Jail' by Reverend J W Horsley, Late and Last Chaplain of Her Majesty's Prison, Clerkenwell, 1898.


Extract from - Prisons and Prisoners 1898
Rev J W Horsley


But when we come to the vast majority of prisoners, and find them included in the two groups - "of imperfect education" and "illiterate" - what conclusions may we draw? First let me warn people to draw none of importance from the numbers in the "imperfect" class. Stand, as I have done hundreds of times, by the recording warder in the entrance hall as he questions the prisoners who descend from the Black Maria or Queen's Bus. Amongst the questions addressed to each is "Can you read or write?" The first says, perhaps, "Yes, I am a doctor." He will go down in the "superior" class. The next says "Oh yes, well." He is enrolled in the second class. The next says, as most do, simply "Yes" and though he may be really well educated, a simple "Yes" consigns him to the tribe of the "imperfectly educated". But also there is the illiterate who being an old hand, knows that it is worth while to have a library book in your cell for the sake of its illustrations even if you cannot read. Therefore, he says "Yes" and is enrolled as only imperfect.