Friday, February 10, 2012

Dennis Nilsen helped blind children read graphs in science textbooks

Yesterday, the House of Lords picked over the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. They got on to parole, and how it works an incentive for prisoners to behave well. But what of prisoners serving long sentences with little hope of parole? Lord Rambsotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, then offered this:
"Noble Lords may remember the name of Dennis Nilsen, who was awarded a natural life sentence for a series of perfectly dreadful crimes. Noble Lords may not know that one aspect of education denied to blind children is access to science textbooks because graphs cannot be read in Braille. One of the education officers in the prison, looking at Dennis Nilsen and his characteristics, reckoned that something there could be harnessed. Nilsen was taught to write in Braille. Then, over four years, he described graphs in a science textbook in a way that would be understood, and translated his descriptions into Braille. After four years, blind children had access to a science textbook, thanks to the activities of someone who, in theory, had been rejected by society. I talked with Nilsen and will not describe that. But I will never forget talking to the education officer who had had the wit to realise that there was something in Nilsen that could be harnessed to the public good. She used the word "hope", which was present at the time, and said how essential it was that she had hope that something could be achieved. I was enormously disturbed when that hope was removed by the 2003 Act. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to respond to this amendment".--[Official Report, 9/2/12; cols. 395-6.]

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