Reading Can Help Reduce Stress


The British newspaper The Telegraph reports on a study that reveals reading for even six minutes can reduce stress levels by two-thirds. From the article : 

Dr Lewis, who conducted the test, said: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism. 


It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination. This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

Read the whole article online here .


No Exit?



Anthony Farley is Associate Professor of Law at Boston College Law School.  Anthony Paul Farley is an expert on Constitutional Law, Criminal Procedure, and Legal Theory.  Farley is also an affiliated professor with the Graduate Department of Sociology and African & African Diaspora Studies at Boston College.


Over two million people are imprisoned in the United States. Most of them are black. This is slavery in a new form, as is the scandalous quality of the educational resources meted out to the heirs of Brown v. Board of Education. The attack on freedom and the attack on literacy are, of course, related. Among the many thousands gone the way of incarceration are few, very few, who ever had the experience of a decent school.

Many, far too many, of our urban schools resemble prisons. Visit one of these schools and you will see how dreams are killed at an early age. Dreams are killed by educators who do not love the children they have promised to educate. Dreams are killed by an educational-industrial complex that creates conditions that make such love impossible to imagine. Dreams are killed as an ever-greater color-lined nation abandons the twin dreams of education and emancipation altogether.

Failing schools produce illiteracy just as surely as failing prisons produce recidivism. The failure of these two institutions seems always to escape serious examination. In the Antebellum South, the dream of the literate slave was always emancipation, just as the dream of the emancipated slave was always literacy. Reading and freedom have always been connected in the minds of former slaves and former slave masters in the United States. Witness the trials and tribulations of Frederick Douglass in his struggle for both mental and physical liberation, for freedom from both illiteracy and the plantation.


Our schools fail. Our prisons fail. The former produce illiteracy, while the latter produce recidivism, and both kill dreams of an emancipated future in the United States. When institutions fail year after year, we must re-examine what we mean by failure. When the reformers respond to this year’s failure with last year’s failed solutions, we must examine what we mean by reform. These failed prisons, these failed schools, and all these failed and endlessly recycled reforms actually succeed in continuing the color line’s division of the United States into two nations: black and white, separate and unequal. And there seems to be no exit from this cycle of failure.

What is to be done?

We should turn the prisons into schools.


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Sentences and Sentencing in the News

 young-man-reading-a-book-001“These Books Won’t Change Your Life”  
(The Guardian)

” …Books are pretty useless to us. They don’t keep us warm (unless you finally fling that unputdownable freak in the fire), they don’t feed us, they wreck our environment by costing trees, and sometimes they’re plain poisonous. Sure, they’re enjoyable, but can that be justified?….In fact, the only lives books can guarantee to change are those of the authors. And even then only if sufficient quantities of their work are sold….The real question is, perhaps: do we read to allow ourselves to change or just to confirm who we already are?”


judgements-a-theme1  “For Young Inmates, Judgement’s a Theme”  
(The New York Times)

The 18-minute film took about 20 hours over 12 weeks to make. In it, the inmates also grapple with the type of judgment they hope to show in the future.

“I’ve been coming here every year since I was 16,” said one inmate. “You see old people in here. I don’t want to be like them.”

A second said, “When you’re alone in that cell, you do a whole lot of thinking.”

Another said, “There’s not going to be a Part 2 of this movie with me in it.”

The movie had its premiere before a packed house at the film center this month. Two of the inmates in it, Dekwan Clark, 20, and Mr. DeMicheli, 21, have since been released from jail and attended the screening.


guardian books blog “Turning men into Page Turners”     
(The Guardian)

Through deconstructing reading behaviour, the researchers found that people’s literary habits, in terms of the frequency with which they read, and the approach they take, do tend to fall along gender lines. Men, they concluded, are just not that into reading….Real change won’t occur until publishers band together and make a concentrated effort to re-masculate reading.



“Letting Judges Have a Say in Sentencing “    
(The New York Times) 

Between 12,000 and 13,000 people are serving prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, according to Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat who is the chairman of the Codes Committee. The state estimates that public spends about $45,000 per year per prisoner.

“There’s widespread agreement that we have to go to more treatment, and there’s agreement about what works,” Mr. Schneiderman said, adding that that goal can be achieved through different channels. “One of the best programs in the state is run by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.”

The current struggle is really about whether judges or prosecutors will control access to the alternative programs, and whether second offenders should be eligible for consideration.

Turning Lives Around: Boys in Trouble and How They Age

photo by phxpma on Flickr



John H. Laub is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, College Park and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. Dr. Laub’s areas of research include crime and deviance over the life course, juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice, and the history of criminology. He is the co-author of  Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points Through Life and Shared Beginnings, Divergent Lives: Delinquent Boys to Age 70.



“Both science and autobiography affirm that a capacity for change is as essential to human development as it is to the evolution of new species.  The events of the opening years do start an infant down a particular path, but it is a path with an extraordinarily large number of intersections.”  
Jerome Kagan, 1998


“The events that go wrong in our lives do not forever damn us.” 
George and Caroline Vaillant, 1981

These two quotes have inspired my long-term research project seeking to understand the development and pathways of offending over the life course.  With my colleague and best friend, Rob Sampson, I have spent much of the last twenty plus years working on two books and dozens of articles, all of which cohere around the goal of accounting for patterns of criminal offending and other behavioral domains over the life course of high-risk children.  One of our key questions is what explains behavioral change over the life course? 


There are many parallels between our program of research and the Changing Lives Through Literature Program.  The CLTL program uses literature to provide insight into the human condition and in turn helps offenders to make sense of their own lives.   CLTL offers the possibility of redemption to marginalized and damaged men and women.  Our research also challenges conventional wisdom regarding offenders and, like the CLTL program, offers an important and hopeful message about the possibility of change, no matter how bleak the prospects may appear.



Our journey began in 1986, when I stumbled across the dusty archives of a classic but largely forgotten study of delinquency housed in the basement of the Harvard Law School.  The study was the Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency project and subsequent follow-ups conducted by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck of the Harvard Law School.  This is considered to be one of the most influential studies in the history of criminological research. 


The results of our “first round” efforts can be found in Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points Through Life (Harvard University Press, 1993).  In this book we developed an age-graded theory of informal social control to explain childhood antisocial behavior, adolescent delinquency, and crime in early adulthood.  A fundamental thesis of our theory of crime was that while individual traits and childhood experiences are important for understanding behavioral stability, experiences in adolescence and adulthood can redirect criminal trajectories in either a more positive or more negative manner.  More precisely, we found that job stability and marital attachment in adulthood were significantly related to changes in adult crime—the stronger the adult ties to work and family, the less crime and deviance among both delinquents and nondelinquent controls.  We concluded that adult “turning points” were crucial for understanding processes of change.


Although proud of Crime in the Making, after its publication we began to contemplate its limitations and raise new questions.  To our fascination and simultaneous horror, we were drawn to embark on a second journey— this time to get out of the basement and into the street and conduct a follow-up study of the Glueck men to the present. 


The results of our “second round” efforts can be found in Shared Beginnings, Divergent Lives: Delinquent Boys to Age 70 (Harvard University Press, 2003).  By merging our follow-up data with original data from the Gluecks’ study we have in our hands the only criminological study in the world that contains data from birth and early childhood to age 70 for such a large group of serious, persistent juvenile offenders.  These data can address many issues concerning crime and criminal justice, but of particular interest to us is continuity and change in criminal behavior over the life course.



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A Second Time in the Times

On February 26, The New York Times Sunday Book Review published Leah Price’s article on Changing Lives Through Literature, “Read a Book, Get Out of Jail.”   This week’s issue features a letter to the editor responding to the Price piece from  CLTL’s Jenni Baker. Pick up a copy at your local newsstand or read it online.

Success and Failure in the CLTL Classroom

photo by faungg on Flickr

Bert Stern has taught in the Dorchester Program for nine years. He is a writer, editor, and poet, a retired English professor and retired chief editor of Hilton Publishing. He and his wife, Tam Neville, co-edit Off the Grid Press, which publishes poetry books by writers over 60.

In Changing Lives Through Literature, the difference between success and failure ought to be perfectly clear. By definition, success means changing your life, certainly not one of life’s easier tasks. Or, in slightly more practical terms, it means students who, having opened themselves wider to possibility and tasted the fruits of open communication, are ready to go out into the world with new hope and self-esteem and to live their own lives more efficaciously – insofar as that is possible in the world given to them.


In the Dorchester Men’s program, an important theme is manhood lost and manhood found, as mirrored in the weekly readings, the writing, and the discussion. Early on we discover parallels between the readings and our own lives, and so the characters we read about become exemplary or cautionary, or, simply, another angle of understanding. This is the process by which our students, and we ourselves, move toward success or failure.


By these standards, academic “success” is not about getting straight A’s, but is about recognizing and doing what we can to heal our own and one another’s wounds. There are moments, at least, when we practice the blessing of acting, no longer out of isolated ego, but out of the community we create, however tentatively and briefly, in the short life of the class.


We all know, at least tacitly, that what we have here is a rare chance to enter discourse on virtue and values. Such an opportunity to reflect, and to experience community and trust, doesn’t come readily in the streets. If some of our graduates who must return there want to sustain the values they’ve learned in the class, they may have to create them from scratch – which, incidentally, is also what our readings from Frederick Douglass and others illustrate.


In practical terms, the quest for change is much messier than I’ve described because it’s complicated by the actual day-to-day problem of the situations that our students fall into or create.


Read about some of the successes and failures Bert witnessed by checking out the full essay on the Changing Lives Through Literature website. 

Want to read more about the delicate balance between success and failure in the CLTL program?

Read CLTL Co-Director Jean Trounstine’s essay.
Read CLTL Co-Director Robert Waxler’s essay.

Library Wins Grant to Continue CLTL Program

fairfaxcountylibraryFairfax County is one of nine local governments nationwide to win a Public Library Innovation Grant from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). The grants, made possible through ICMA’s partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, support projects developed by local government that utilize their public libraries in addressing local needs and providing new services with lasting benefits to their communities. ICMA, the premier local government and management organization in the U.S., will provide oversight for the operation of the program.


The grant of $34,450 will allow Fairfax County Public Library to continue offering its award-winning Changing Lives Through Literature program in partnership with the Virginia Department of Corrections and the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Services.


Changing Lives Through Literature offers an alternative to formal court action or is a requirement as part of the Recidivist Prevention Program for Fairfax County offenders that uses the power of literature to transform lives through reading and group discussion. Literature and discussions are effective, proven tools for reducing recidivism at minimum cost.

During the process, offenders develop better verbal and listening skills, undergo self-reflection and learn how to become better citizens. Fairfax County will build a broader and stronger network to sustain and expand this program and promote public libraries as important tools in stemming criminal recidivism. 


The ICMA Public Library Innovation Grants are designed to assist local governments in developing new and creative ways to strategically use their public libraries in meeting community needs. Recognizing the importance of the city manager/librarian relationship to create and sustain positive change for communities, the Innovation Grant will be anchored by a partnership between Fairfax County’s Office of the County Executive and the Fairfax County Public Library. Nine local governments were selected for the Innovation grants out of 515 applications received by ICMA.

For more information on the ICMA Public Library Innovation Grants, visit

Books Behind Bars : The War on Prison Law Libraries

photo by teachandlearn on Flickr

Mona Lynch is an associate professor in the Criminology, Law and Society department at UC Irvine. Her research and writing focuses on the social, psychological, and cultural dynamics of contemporary punishment processes, and has been published in a wide range of journals and law reviews. Her new book, Sunbelt Justice: Arizona and the Transformation of American Punishment is due out this fall with Stanford University Press.


I am just coming off of a ten-year obsession with Arizona’s punishment practices. There is an aspect to the multiple assaults on prisoners’ rights and dignity that I have yet to articulate until now–the “tough” punishment policies instituted in this state that directly assault the autonomy of the prisoner’s soul. This guest post is my attempt to make sense of these policies by sharing just one such episode in Arizona’s recent penal past: the war on prison law libraries.


The legal battle began in 1984, when a class action suit brought by inmates at the central prison unit alleged that prisoners were denied meaningful access to courts due to inadequate law library facilities. Under order from the Court, the state agreed early on to improve the access, but the plaintiffs soon returned to court, alleging continued violations of prisoners’ rights.


Federal District Court Judge Carl Muecke ordered  the Department of Corrections to supply trained legal assistants to help prisoners who were denied physical access to the library with their cases. The department, however, simply assigned prisoners–many with no legal skills whatsoever–to the job of “legal assistant.” The prison only allowed inmates to use the library on a very limited and arbitrary schedule and forced  many prisoners to pay for basic supplies for filing cases, such as paper and stamps, even if it meant that they had to forego other necessities to do so.


Read more after the jump.

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A Hearty Thanks!

In the weeks following Changing Lives Through Literature’s coverage in the New York Times, numerous blogs have helped spread the word about CLTL. We’d like to take a minute to thank all of the bloggers who’ve taken the time to share our organization with their readers.

When you have a moment, we hope you’ll check out some of the links below  


Beattie’s Book Blog 

Booklist Blog

Crime Victims Media Report 

The Digiletto

FACT–Freedom Against Censorship Thailand 

Fiction Writers Review Blog

Green Mountain Barrister

The Guiri Dispatches 

Janet on the Planet

Literary Kicks

Louise Marley

The loveART blog

Marks in the Margin

Office of Scholarly and Literary Publications at Georgetown University 

Outsider Writers Collective 

Pax/Peace/Paz Studies at Naropa

Perfume Chowk


The Point 

Political Mavens

Public Criminology


Recycled Minds

RED in the city 

Sherry Chandler

Word Lily

A Writer’s Desk

A View of the Death Penalty

photo by publik15 on Flickr

Joel M. Caplan is an assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University and the Assistant Director of the Rutgers Center on Public Security. Jason Matejkowski is a doctoral student in the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

With torture currently the hot-button issue, let us not forget that we are still sentencing people to death, despite knowing absolutely that it does not deter future crime and that we are likely to kill innocent people. The death penalty does little to reduce the rates of criminal violence and it rarely quells the desire for vengeance or dispels feelings of grief by families of victims.


“If you tried to sell death-penalty stock on Wall Street,” wrote Robert Sherrill in a 2001 issue of the Nation, “the Securities and Exchange Commission would have you prosecuted for fraud. Capital punishment doesn’t achieve any of the things its backers promise it will, and it is a spectacular waste of time and money.” Nevertheless, capital punishment is a sentencing option in 37 U.S. states and the federal justice system. Its existence is based primarily on the punishment ideologies of deterrence, retribution and incapacitation. Its practice is ineffective, irreversible and inequitable.


Many Americans take comfort in knowing, in part, that if ever their peace is disrupted it will be rectified with justice. Many victims and fearful potential-victims alike demand justice. The death-penalty does not deliver. A justice system that sanctions death has substituted vengeance for reconciliation and punishment for rehabilitation.


Read more after the jump.

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