Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 16: 667–691, 2003.
© 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The nature of reading difﬁculties among inmates in juvenile
, INGVAR LUNDBERG
Växjö University, Växjö, Sweden;
Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden
Abstract. Dyslexia is assumed to be frequent among inmates in prisons and in juvenile institu-
tions. However, it remains unclear whether the literacy difﬁculties observed are really dyslexic
in nature. Seventy inmates in juvenile institutions were studied. In addition to literacy skills,
the assessment included phonological skills, school attendance, cultural background, and self-
esteem. Dyslexia in the sense of decoding problems related to phonological deﬁciencies was
observed in 11% of the cases. Most of the inmates with literacy difﬁculties had a background,
from infancy and onwards, characterized by severe social and emotional problems, interfering
with positive experience of literacy and the literate culture. However, these sub-optimal exper-
iences of the literate culture do not imply dyslexia. From this perspective, it is unlikely that
dyslexia is a determining factor of delinquent behavior.
Key words: Dyslexia, Juvenile delinquents, Phonology, Reading and writing difﬁculties,
Several studies of inmates of juvenile institutions and prisons have shown
that reading and spelling problems are more common in these groups than
in the general population (Alm & Andersson, 1997; Dalteg et al., 1997;
Newman, Lewis & Beverstock, 1994; Samuelsson, Gustafson, Herkner &
Lundberg, 2000; Samuelsson, Herkner & Lundberg, 2003; Sarnecki, 1991;
Snowling, Adams, Bowyer-Crane & Tobin, 2000). In an earlier paper
(Svensson, Lundberg & Jacobson, 2001) we reported that more than 70% of
the inmates of Swedish institutions for juvenile delinquents showed problems
with reading or spelling.
These results are depressing considering the increasing importance of
literacy skills in current knowledge society with the rapid growth of infor-
mation technology and the increasing dependence on text and symbols in
working life. Poor literacy skills will certainly make the re-socialization of
young delinquents more difﬁcult and increase their risks of permanently
occupying a marginalized position in society with long-term unemploy-
ment and minimal participation in the democratic process. An important