If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Changing Lives Through Literature

Can a paperback copy of Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter do what jail cannot – change an offender’s life for the better?

Readers know that books can take us to other worlds, provide entertainment, information, insight, solace. Now there is evidence that literature can also transform the lives of people in the justice system.

The Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program was created in 1991 by UMass-Dartmouth professor Robert Waxler and his friend, Bob Kane, a judge. Kane was fed up with a “turnstile” justice system that saw the same people commit the same crimes as soon as they walked out the jail door. Waxler was determined to test his belief in the power of literature to reach places inside the minds and hearts of offenders where real change could take place. New studies support Waxler’s hypothesis, showing that among other things, reading helps develop empathy, and that increased empathy can lead to changes in behavior.

The original CLTL program included eight men who had 145 convictions, many of them felony convictions. Waxler wanted to test his program with “tough guys” who would prove that he hadn’t stacked the deck with more highly educated, less dangerous participants. At the end of the program, the tough guys’ recidivism rate was only 19 percent, compared to 45 percent for the general prison population. The results were impressive, but Waxler said that the statistics were not what interested him. He knew the program was working when one young drug dealer told him of his excitement at reading Jack London’s Sea Wolf, and how his newfound love of books led him to start reading to his three-year-old daughter.

How does CLTL work? Offenders serve part of their sentence by meeting in small groups to discuss books such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X or Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. These and the other books chosen for the program have characters that face serious choices and issues. The most unique part of CLTL is the participation of members of the legal and law enforcement communities. Participants could find themselves talking about Langston Hughes’ poems with a judge or a probation officer, and a college professor facilitator. By sitting around a table, listening to each other, participants feel valued for their ideas, not judged for their crimes. Participants see each other as human beings, not as statistics or faceless uniforms.

CLTL programs are in place in 14 states and have been adopted in the UK. One longitudinal study of 600 CLTL participants in Massachusetts showed a 60 percent drop in recidivism for those who completed the program and a 16 percent drop for those who did not. In cases where participants reoffended, there was a significant drop in the number and severity of the type of crime committed. These are better results than many more expensive programs, and the program has been particularly effective for juvenile offenders.
With U. S. Bureau of Justice statistics stating that prisoners cost U. S. taxpayers more than $70 billion  and the New York Times reporting that 1 in 100 Americans are currently or have been in the criminal justice system, we need ideas and programs like CLTL.

Compare $70 billion to the cost of a box of paperback books, a facilitator, and an hour a week around a table in a library.

As the CLTL webpage states, literature has the power to transform. Yet, one article I read stated that CLTL has been a “hard sell” to government officials, who doubt the effectiveness of a literature based program.

You have to wonder. Why would states prefer to spend billions on jails instead of buying a few boxes of books?

Is there a book that changed your life?


E. B. Davis said...

I can understand how reading helps cut recidivism. Although some might disagree, I feel that TV, movies and video games are two dimensional. In books, there is another dimension--the author and the voice. What does that offer--another thought process, another set of values, another way of life. People who don't read, who are stuck in the rut of poverty/crime/jail/no skills, etc. often can't see any other way to live life. Reading gets them out of their criminal microcosm. Thanks for giving us the statistics, Shari. It's wonderful news. Education pays off.

Jim Jackson said...

It is hard to know whether reading literature is the key or the small group get-together with their positive reinforcement. However, since reading the literature facilitates the small group discussions, we do know the combination works.

As to why governments spend money rather than do something rational, need we look further than a Congress who shuts down the government, but guarantees workers will be paid anyway to illustrate that politics and good policy are often at loggerheads. People who want to work and a public who wants their services can’t have them because of stupidity.

Same with the criminal justice system. Many people want only punishment and retribution and neglect society’s net worth after the person has served their sentence.

~ Jim

Kara Cerise said...

Thank you for information about this inspiring program, Shari. It's good to hear about something that works! For prisoners, or anyone who feels "stuck", books offer a different perspective, new possibilities and hope for a better life.

Sarah Henning said...

Sounds like a great program, Shari. Thanks for sharing!

Gloria Alden said...

What a great program, Shari. I think I'll check into donating some of my many, many books to a prison in our county. Of course, in this program the success might stem mostly from groups reading and discussing the same books and single books might not work as well.

Warren Bull said...

There are so many people in prison that prison guards have become a voting block politicians have to pay attention to.

Shari Randall said...

Hi E.B., I've seen some research that supports your feeling about the extra "dimension" of reading, that can reach people on a level that film and games cannot.

Jim, these past few weeks have been pretty crazy. Just hope that January doesn't bring more of the same.

Kara, Gloria, and Sarah, Thank you for your thoughts and for thinking of sharing your books with others!

Warren, I did not know that! I did learn a lot about the growth of the prison industry while researching this post. It's sad that some people's livelihoods depend on more people being put in jail.

Anonymous said...

I collect & donate books (starting with several copies of my own books) to the library in the prison where I used to work. I know firsthand how having things to read that interest them keep some people sane in the crazy, stressful world of prison.

Last year, that prison had a grand total of $500 to spend on non-legal reference material. Three daily newspapers are purchased for the library, and that took up well over half of the budget.

I'm not familiar with the program Shari's talking about, but it sounds like a good one. Any time inmates can relate in small groups as people, not inmates, it's beneficial. And reading is beneficial. A win-win program.