Functional Illiteracy and Neurocognitive Deficits among Male Prisoners: Implications for rehabilitation



Tiina Tuominen, Tapio Korhonen, Heikki Hämäläinen, Satu Temonen, Helena Salo, Jouko Katajisto, Hannu Lauerma

The Journal of Forensic Practice




The purpose of this study is to determine the nature of the academic skills deficits in male offenders and their relation to neurocognitive deficits.


Seventy-two Finnish male prisoners were tested with regard to reading, spelling, and mathematical abilities.


Low academic skills, especially reading, were related to poor neurocognitive performance in verbal memory, visual memory, attention, and motor dexterity. The results showed a high number (29 – 36 %) of reading and spelling disorders. Fifteen percent of those with medium to severe problems in academic skills had marked difficulties in mathematics. Eighty-eight percent of the participants with at least one problem area in literacy skills had neurocognitive deficits. In the present study, the pervasive neurocognitive deficits, occurring comorbidly with reading and spelling difficulties, seem to refer to a fundamental set of deficits which are only minimally explained by IQ, educational background or training.

Research limitations/implications

Reading and spelling difficulties could be seen as functional illiteracy which, combined with a broad spectrum of neuropsychological function deficits, pose a challenging task for rehabilitation. Only after proper identification of deficits has been achieved is it possible to set goals and select the appropriate means for rehabilitation. One obvious limitation is the moderate number of subjects (n=72).

Practical implications

It may not be enough just to train reading or develop literacy activities among prisoners; focusing intervention on comprehensive neurocognitive deficits is also necessary.


Correlates and comorbidity between academic difficulties and neurocognitive deficits among offenders, especially in arithmetic difficulties, have been less studied.









Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee