The UMass Dartmouth Changing Lives Through Literature alternative sentencing program, which has become a national model, received $100,000 from the Massachusetts Trial Court as part of the recently passed state budget.
CLTL was founded in 1991 by UMass Dartmouth English Professor Robert Waxler and a local judge frustrated by the number of repeat offenders showing up in area courtrooms. CLTL brings offenders, judges, probation officers and teachers together in classrooms to examine their lives and be inspired by great literature.
The CLTL cause was advanced in the Legislature by state Sen. Mark C. Montigny, D-New Bedford; Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford; and state Rep. John Quinn, D-Dartmouth, with the support of the entire South Coast delegation.
"Lowering recidivism must be a top public safety priority, as it speaks directly to our personal safety and quality of life. Building more prison cells alone has not done enough to make our neighborhoods safer. This program and other creative initiatives, combined with tough anti-crime policies is the key to a safer society," said Senator Montigny, who championed the program ans secured funding in the Senate.
"Nearly every inmate in Massachusetts prisons will eventually be releasedback into our communities. This program, Changing Lives Through Literature, reduces violent and criminal behavior. This not only helps inmates and their families; it eventually helps us all," said Representative Cabral of New Bedford.
Representative Quinn added: "Changing Lives Through Literature has proven effective in lowering the number of repeat offenders, which has a direct impact on the safety of our communities. It is important that tough punishment, smart law enforcement, and innovative efforts such as CLTL work in tandem to reduce crime."
"CLTL is fortunate to have thoughtful and bold leaders such as Mark Montigny, Tony Cabral and John Quinn on its side," Prof. Waxler said. "Along with the rest of the SouthCoast delegation, they are willing to think out of the box in order to solve some of our society’s most complex problems."
The Commonwealth’s new investment in the program promises to save the state significantly more money than it spends on the program. The per "student" cost of the program is $500, compared to an annual $30,000 cost of incarcerating one person.
The program has spread across the nation, from progressive Massachusetts to the heartland of Kansas to the death penaltly counties of Texas because judges and probation officials have seen the program lowering recivitism rates. The program is also underway in New York, Arizona, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, as well as in England. CLTL programs are also being developed in California, Florida and Canada.
Waxler just finished writing a book, with his co-author Jean Trounstine, about the history and practice of the program. The book will be published in October by the University of Michigan Press.
CLTL has also been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. More information on CLTL can be found at the Changing Lives Through Literature web site.
Independent evaluations of CLTL indicate that the program has cut recidivism rates in half and often has significant impact on reducing violence among offenders. One study indicated that only 19 percent of CLTL "graduates" re-offended while a comparison group of offenders had a 45 percent recidivism rate.