about CLTL

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.


5 thoughts on “about CLTL

  1. In his recent post, Robert Waxler discusses the nature of reading. I like this piece a lot. It does however make me wonder about a few things. I’m thinking no other storytelling experience is like reading. Why is that? Traditional storytelling, Theatre, Radio, Television and Motion Pictures involve us, sometimes deeply, but in significantly different ways than reading. Is it that some of these other forms don’t require as much from the audience as reading? Is it the greater demand on the reader to participate that makes the experience so different. Do we think we “own”a story we read,more than one we watch in a theatre or on a screen? Are there some narratives that are better told as a play or movie? Does a written story read to you by another person have the same impact as the same story read to yourself? How about “Books on Tape” ? I have always favored the theatrical styles of Pirandello. I wonder if more of our Drama made the same demands on the audience as his work if it wouldn’t be more fulfilling? (more like reading a book) Some of the best Television, ( long gone) tended to be more in that style. And lastly, how about this one, is a television campaign commercial more powerful than the old campaign leaflet? Having spent 41 years designing for PBS, I have given more than passing thought to these questions.

  2. Just to say this is a wonderful, heart-lifting project. I am hoping to get involved in something similar with dementia and Altzheimer’s sufferers in the UK, by reading to them. Apparently beloved poetry and favourite authors can give the elderly and disoriented a link with their lives that ordinary speech cannot. I think great writing has immeasurable power to change lives and I wish you the very best indeed in your work. It is so very worthwhile.

  3. Pingback: The Sacrifice of Isaac in Visual Art and Poetry | Julia M. O'Brien

  4. Pingback: CLTL Featured on “Writers Who Kill” Blog | Changing Lives, Changing Minds

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