The following post was written for the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries blog. The personal story that is included, I feel, exemplifies what is at the heart of the Changing Lives through Literature program. The original post can be found here.
Photo by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig
By Jack Meyers
As alternative sentencing gains in popularity, many will wonder just how this form of “punishment” enlightens offenders. Instead of sticking people in jail to think about what they have done—usually devising better ways to be criminals—literature and support groups can help offenders realize how their decisions affect those around them.
Characters and stories in literature can impact how an individual processes information. A well written novel correlating to an offender’s specific crime can create more of a positive impact on the offender’s mind, compared to being locked up. How can literature be so inspiring to those who read it?
1. Caring about what happens
Well written novels can develop characters that readers can connect with on an emotional level. These connections can stir emotions as tribulations unfold within the novels causing readers to care about what happens to the characters.
Connecting with literary characters can lead offenders to emotionally bond with the stories. Understanding the characters’ decisions can help offenders begin to understand why circumstances happen and how to deal with them in ways other than breaking the law.
2. Analyzing the affects of actions
If offenders can discover how their actions affect the world around them, it could lead to enlightening realizations of how their actions hurt those involved.
The imagination is a powerful tool. It can create objects of wonder or items of destruction. Using their imaginations could help them realize the damage they have wrought with their actions. By helping offenders analyze their circumstances in relation to literature, there is a good chance that they will have an epiphany about their own experiences and how their surroundings were affected.
3. Getting support
One of the most important aspects of alternative sentencing through literature is the presence of supportive individuals who help offenders discuss the nature of each chosen novel.
Most of the support groups using alternative sentencing methods consist of visits by parole officers and the judges who sentenced the offenders. This could be a vital piece of the puzzle—it shows the offenders that there are those that care about whether they succeed or not.
Whether it is the Bible or a coveted novel, the stories and characters in books can reveal a lot about who you are. This isn’t saying that books can cure all criminal intentions, but they can go a long way in helping some offenders see how their actions can lead to a ripple effect in the pond of life.
Jack Meyers is a regular contributor for www.nannybackgroundcheck.com. As a detective he wants to spread the knowledge of the terrible things that can happen when people don’t fully verify the credentials of a caregiver or any employee. He also writes for various law enforcement blogs and sites.
Happy New Year!
We’d like to know your opinion. Please take this quick poll by clicking the link below. Thank you!
–Nancy, blog editor
Judge Bettina Borders, of Bristol County Juvenile Court, was named 2012 SouthCoast Woman of the Year. She made “contributions to the community as a justice and activist,” according to the New Bedford (MA) Standard-Times. Her work includes making use of alternative sentencing programs such as Changing Lives Through Literature.
Read reporter Natalie Sherman’s full article about this amazing Woman of the Year.
Is someone in your community changing lives for the better? Tell us about that person.
To submit brief comments, use the comments link at the top of this post. To submit longer comments, or to include images, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing about the remarkable, and perhaps under-recognized, people in your communities.
–Nancy E. Oliveira, Editor
As we approach the end of 2012, let’s take a moment to reflect on this year’s successes—big and small—of Changing Lives Through Literature and other alternative sentencing programs.
We are the official blog of Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL)—an alternative sentencing program “based on the power of literature to transform lives through reading and group discussion,” as well-stated on the official CLTL website.
The main purpose of the Changing Lives, Changing Minds blog is to support CLTL. This blog provides a place to discuss:
- CLTL and other alternative sentencing programs that reduce criminal recidivism or change lives for the better—share news, concerns, successes, difficulties, and ideas
- Literature—recommend stories that inspire; talk about literary events that enlighten
- Criminal justice reform and other relevant criminal justice topics of today—discuss what works and what changes still need to take place
A milestone reached: 200 posts
We reached a milestone this year—we published our 200th post. Please continue to join us as we embark on our next 200. Also, while CLTL has been around since 1991, this blog turned four years old last month. Let’s look forward to the next four years and beyond.
Thank you for contributing your thoughts, experiences, and insights to this blog. Also, thank you for reading it! We hope you find its content meaningful and valuable.
A call to action: share your 2012 success stories
We invite you to share your CLTL (or similar program) successes of 2012. We encourage you to use this blog to share your answers to any of these questions:
- How did your CLTL group or similar program succeed in 2012?
- What breakthroughs were experienced?
- What piece of literature did you or someone in your program find most inspiring?
For shorter comments, please use the leave a comment link at the top of this post and enter your reply. For longer comments, or to include images, submit up to 700 words to email@example.com for publication on this blog.
We also welcome your thoughts on what you’d like to read on this blog for the upcoming year.
Again, thank you for helping to make this blog, CLTL, and similar programs a success.
Nancy E. Oliveira
Editor of Changing Lives, Changing Minds—a Changing Lives Through Literature blog
Photo taken by JoAnne Breault.
By Sara Dawkins
While reading, you use your imagination to visualize a story’s characters as if they’re starring in a movie within your mind. Although the author’s words greatly impact the flow of your mind-movie, your imagination fills in the blanks. Reading about characters who have similar circumstances to yours can help shed light on your own situation. This is one of the base beliefs behind the alternative sentencing program called Changing Lives Through Literature. How can literature encourage positive change in a criminal’s way of thinking?
1. Reflection: When offenders openly analyze their own lives through literary characters, they get a chance for inner reflection that they may never have explored before. They put themselves in the spotlight for self-examination.
2. Positive Role Models: After ordering CLTL classes as part of sentencing, judges may attend the classes involving the offenders-turned-students. By contributing to the literary discussions, the judges start becoming positive role models in the students’ lives—possibly changing how the students view the world. Parole officers can become role models just as much by participating in the students’ progress in the classes. This can greatly increase the chances of rehabilitation and reduce the likelihood of re-offending.
3. Self-Worth: In order for the program to work, students must have a capacity to accept responsibility for their actions. Students must show and demonstrate that they can be proactive in their own rehabilitation. For some, it is difficult to rely only on themselves to stay motivated enough for better lives. Family histories can be pivotal to how students adapt to this method of rehabilitation.
4. Perspective: This alternative method of sentencing is more than just a book club. The literary works chosen reflect students’ lives—either through the characters or the situations. It’s a way for students to examine their actions from the perceptions of others. As their imaginations explore the settings, the literature often drives a point home better than more jail time would.
5. Safety: The philosophy behind CLTL is such that it allows students to feel safe when discussing literature. Students open themselves up and discuss the actions of literary characters, and how the characters relate to themselves.
Alternative sentencing methods for criminal offenders has had great success. Support is growing for methods such as these. Words can be powerful to those who are open to their meanings. We should embrace the success of CLTL and support rehabilitation over punishment to those who need it and who are willing to benefit from it.
Sara Dawkins is an active nanny as well as an active freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor of http://www.nannypro.com/.
By Robert McGale
Alternative sentencing is gaining acceptance in today’s judicial system. The county jails and state prisons are filled to over-capacity. In some prisons, portions of the prison general population are crammed into large auditoriums. Fights erupt often, and prison guards face many dangers. Something proactive needed to be done to decrease the number of people incarcerated in America’s penal institutions.
Rehabilitation versus Correction
Prisons used to be institutions for rehabilitating felons to eventually re-enter society and become productive citizens. For the most part, this did not happen. Inmate drug programs were abysmal, million dollar failures. Prisons in the U.S.A. evolved into revolving doors for drug offenders and other felons. In one state, the prison system was, for decades, called the Department of Rehabilitation. It was ultimately renamed the Department of Corrections because nobody was getting rehabilitated.
Drug Court Instead of the State Penitentiary
Drug Court is an alternative sentence option with a long waiting list. When a drug offender appears before the judge at his or her arraignment, the Public Defender requests Drug Court in lieu of serving time in the state penitentiary. The defendant is put on a waiting list. When the drug offender’s name reaches the top of the waiting list, he or she begins participating in Drug Court.
A large treatment facility is contracted by the state to do drug rehabilitation, and a commissioner or judge is designated to preside over the Drug Court Program. Monday through Thursday of each week Drug Court participants attend outpatient drug rehabilitation where they are taught techniques in relapse prevention and undergo other addiction treatment and behavioral therapy. Drug Court participants learn how to confront daily situations without the use of drugs.
All Drug Court participants are drug tested at random during the week. Those that test positive for drugs are sentenced by the judge to a week in the county jail. A Drug Court participant is permitted to have two positive drug tests, but on the third positive test, the drug offender is sentenced to state prison to serve the remainder of his or her sentence.
All Drug Court members attend court on Friday. Members are also promoted to higher levels of treatment while in front of the judge on Fridays. When a Drug Court member has completed the entire program, which is usually around 18 months long, a graduation is held. Drug Court has a much lower recidivism rate than incarceration.
More Options in Alternative Sentencing
Another alternative sentence is the Work Release Program. Inmates are released during the day to work and then return to prison at night. Some states enable felons to serve their jail time on the week-ends. Community service and the installation of a breathalyzer device in an alcohol offender’s car are two other very common alternative sentences. House arrest, in conjunction with the wearing of an ankle device, has proven to be effective in curbing crime and decreasing prison overcrowding.
Robert McGale is a law enthusiast since experiencing a difficult time a few years ago. He is currently working on his law degree at Osgoode Hall Law School and interning at a Toronto criminal law office. If you have been charged with a criminal offense he recommends contacting Morrie Luft, Criminal Defence Lawyer.