In 2014, Genius Within CIC were commissioned to deliver two pilot courses addressing the needs of prisoners with working memory difficulties. Working memory is a fundamental intellectual process, which is affected by dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, head injury substance misuse and more. Your working memory usually allows you to remember between 5 and 9 things at any one time – for example if someone tells you a telephone number or a series of directions you will notice how many you can remember before things start to drop out. Working memory ability is critical to everyday functions such as taking instructions, concentrating, answering questions and remembering names, places or numbers. Working memory difficulties are common to us all, when we are tired for example, but if you are starting from a very low base, a bad night’s sleep can make you unable to cope with normal everyday experiences
We worked in a peer group coaching style to enable the development of thinking strategies. In both pilot courses the same core modules were delivered:
|Prison 1||10 starters||9 completers||90% retention|
|Prison 2||8 starters||8 completers||100% retention|
The feedback from the participants was consistently good. In particular, we noted how articulate they became and when they were asked to comment on their experiences, they reported:
- Improved self awareness
- Ability to use stress management techniques to concentrate
- Ability to deliberately control memory upload and download
- Improved spelling
“I am a visual thinker. When I close my eyes I can see the things I need to remember.”
“Noise really distracts me, I know I need to have quiet to remember things.”
What could this mean?
In prison 2, we were able to run standardized cognitive ability tests before and after, to assess progress. The group improved their memory scores from an average of the 10th percentile to the 53rd percentile.
Improved working memory performance in cognitive tasks, means that our participants have learned how to deliberately use strategies to improve their memory. In these tests, they are asked to remember lists of words, numbers or visual patterns. All had improved and all were into the green zone in the second round, having all been in the blue zone beforehand. They need to keep practising, but we are hopeful that they will translate this into better communication skills that will help them in court, in conversing with officers, in education and in future work.
We are also piloting a course with the Institute of Leadership and Management, that particularly targets the work related aspects of working memory. In one prison, five out of our nine completers also managed to complete their diaries to achieve an endorsed certificate. This will add to their employability prospects.
“I have realized how much my emotions affect my memory. I can take time to breathe before I go into a class and think,
‘what am I doing this for? Why am I here?’
Then I get much more out of it.”
A wider project involving 75 employees and with double blind control group analysis is also underway.