Jackie Hewitt-Main, of Kents Hill Road, and her two sons, Stuart and Richard, launched the Cascade Foundation in a bid to stop prisoners reverting back to a life of crime and keep them on the straight and narrow once they have served their sentences.
The organisation will work with dyslexic prisoners in UK prisons and use a multi-sensory learning programme and prisoner mentoring scheme to help them develop basic reading and writing skills needed to get by in everyday life.
Jackie, who suffers from dyslexia herself, said: “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.
“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.”
Jackie, who is a qualified special educational needs teacher, set up a successful pilot project in Chelmsford Prison in 2006 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 charity has been set up in conjunction with Benfleet councillor Andrew Sheldon, who suffers from dyslexia, and Hadleigh-based artist Karen Osman.
Mr Sheldon said: “This programme has the potential to impact upon so many lives, not just the prisoners, but also those who would otherwise become victims of their reoffending.
“The results from the Chelmsford pilot Jackie did a few years ago are so encouraging we felt we had to push to get it rolled out across the country.”
The charity was launched by the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, at an event hosted by Castle Point MP Rebecca Harris in the Houses of Parliament earlier this month.
Mr Grayling said: “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.”
The Cascade Foundation will be launching its next project in Doncaster Prison in August.