Walton County Sheriff's Office has adopted a program that Sheriff Michael Adkinson believes will change lives. It is a program that teaches fundamental reading skills.
"We find that a lot of the population in our jail is either way below reading level or functionally illiterate," said Adkinson.
Created in England by Katy Parkinson, Lexonik Sound Training is a reading program that is proven to increase reading proficiency of participants in just six weeks through six one-hour sessions where a tutor, trained by the program's founder, leads a group of four through a variety of activities designed to close the literacy gap.
The Walton County Jail is the first incarceration facility in the United States to pilot the program.
"Reading is hopefully part of the jigsaw puzzle that will allow them to reintegrate into the community and hopefully give something back," said Parkinson, who flew to Walton County to initiate the program here.
Parkinson developed the program when she was employed as a senior learning and language team coordinator and responsible for developing the skills of teens who were underachieving in reading.
A believer in small-group learning, she taught groups of four using a method similar to what is now referred to as reciprocal reading and encouraged students to break words down into syllables. However, she found that a weak reader can't make sense of words.
This realization was the start of her research.
Beginning in 1999, Parkinson focused on developing an effective way to teach the decoding aspect of reading and discovered that some students are not able to make sense of what they read or the spoken language. Students must be able to read for meaning and that must start with vocabulary knowledge. Without this, reading skills don't work.
Parkinson combined active research and data collection with studies at Northumbria University.
She set up groups and used her original version of Sound Training with them for eight weeks. She carried out this research for three consecutive years and found the outstanding results were being replicated. In one hour of lessons over a six-week period the average gain in reading is 27 months. This data was validated by Northumbria.
Lexonik by Sound Training works for all ages and learners of all ability.
"We are the first correctional institution in the United States to use it," said Kristen Rodriguez, the Walton County Jail's support bureau chief. "It's a different way of breaking words down. It would work for any level. There are no criteria for being accepted into the program. If someone is not literate it will increase innovation. It builds on your current level. We are always looking and trying to find things to improve lives so inmates won't reoffend."
Parkinson worked with the sheriff, Rodriguez, and trained two instructors. One of those is Mental Health Treatment Manager Tamara Bogle.
"It teaches them the base root of words so they can take them apart. We teach them how to take words apart," explained Bogle.
Lexonik's website boasts more than 50,000 lives changed, more than 1,000 teachers trained, and that the program is in more than 700 schools worldwide, mostly in the U.K. It is used in only five places in the U.S.
In addition to improving inmates' reading ability and comprehension, Adkinson hopes the program will reduce recidivism.
"What we've done is try to determine the needs of inmates and how to make them successful," said Adkinson. "For anyone to be successful in life it's critical they have the ability to read and write. This is another step in trying to break the cycle of incarceration."