Literature has the power to transform men and women’s lives–this is the philosophy behind Changing Lives Through Literature
In Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) programs, criminal offenders with charges ranging from drug violations to assault with a deadly weapon read and discuss literature as a condition of their probation. During a typical class, students unite around a table with a professor, judge, and probation officer to engage with literature centered on themes of violence, poverty, identity, and abuse.
Students benefit from the democratic format of the sessions that helps them realize that their own unique voice is equally important and learn to solve disagreements with words rather than violence. Further, by discussing characters that have histories and struggles similar to their own, offenders revisit and evaluate their own past experiences and ultimately change their perspectives on their lives.
An early study of CLTL graduates revealed that those who complete the program are less than half as likely to re-offend than offenders sentenced to jail or standard probation. Further reviews conducted by individual courts confirm this pattern and show that graduates who do re-offend commit far less serious crimes, and rarely commit violent crimes. These statistics have motivated educators and law enforcement officials in eight states and England to create their own CLTL groups. At present, over 5,000 men, women, and juveniles have graduated from CLTL programs since its inception in 1991, and many have returned to school and found new jobs.
Our successes have not gone unnoticed. Feature articles in The New York Times, Parade Magazine, and The Los Angeles Times increased initial awareness of our program and funding from both the Massachusetts Endowment for the Humanities and the Coolidge Family Foundation facilitated the program’s early expansion.
In 2003, the National Endowment for the Humanities acknowledged CLTL’s impact on incarceration rates through a $180,000 Exemplary Education Grant to develop our website (http://cltl.umassd.edu). The following year, we received a New England Higher Education Excellence Award from the New England Board of Higher Education for our substantive contributions to improving higher education opportunities in the area. In addition to these recognitions, the Library of America demonstrates its ongoing support by donating new books to CLTL graduates across the country, and an earmark in the annual Massachusetts state budget often provides $100,000 to aid groups operating within the state.
For more information about CLTL, visit our official website.