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For Probation Officers

In a Changing Lives Through Literature program, the probation officer (PO) connects the court to the classroom. Most often, it is the PO who locates potential students or who gets referrals from fellow POs, and who spends the most time getting to know the student's history and background. The PO determines if a particular student is appropriate for CLTL by asking him or herself a series of questions. Can the student handle the literature? Is she at a place in her sobriety that would make her able to participate in this program? Will there be job conflicts? Is the student motivated to take on CLTL? Does he or she have too many personal issues that will get in his or her way?

To answer the first question, many POs use a simple reading test to determine if the student is capable of digesting the material. This can be as easy as asking the client to read a magazine article or briefly discussing what the student likes to read.

Once the sessions begin, it is the PO who follows up if a student misses a class and decides or advises about the student's continued participation in the program. Most POs set up rules for participation, give accolades for success, provide sanctions as necessary, and maintain contracts and attendance logs (see Practical Help in Court Forms).

The PO may also be responsible for helping the offender with other aspects of his or her life, such as job interviews, therapy, family issues, and applying for school programs (see Referral Sources for Students). All of these commitments interact with the student's success, and no one knows this better than the PO. Many POs view the opportunity to participate in CLTL as a way to see their clients in a new light (see PO Robert Hassett's Probation Methods).

If you are a probation officer, your involvement in this program is crucial for its success. By attending sessions, reading all the selections, and participating in discussions, you serve as a role model in the classroom in the best possible way. That is, by being yourself and by sharing what you see in a text, offenders look to you to see what your reactions are concerning the texts, but in a deeper sense, they want to see how you think. They also want you to listen to them, appreciate them for their ideas and insights, and value their reflections on a text. It is important that you challenge ideas in the classroom with your honest assessment of the reading material. Often, it is the tension between ideas that gets a discussion going. The PO can be effective in initiating lively discussions.

As a PO, you will work with a judge to arrange for the graduation ceremony to take place in your courtroom. You may also receive program referrals from the bench. Some of you will perform follow-up studies to see how your participants are doing after the program. As Wayne St. Pierre, PO for New Bedford has said, the PO's job can be difficult in terms of balancing the sometimes-paradoxical requirements of the courtroom and the literature seminar.

Scattered throughout this website, you'll find some useful materials. Go to Start a Program to learn more about how to initiate a program. Follow four program prototypes. Sample court forms, provided by POs experienced in the CLTL program are available, and you might want to read some of the essays under Key Issues written by POs and others. We also have newsletters, reporting on what's current in CLTL around the country, and video clips about CLTL. Individual program homepages present an overview of some of the CLTL programs currently running across the country. Finally, check out the Discussion Forum to enter into conversation with other POs or read/post about issues that are brewing.

Videos (may take a few moments to load):

Probation Officer Wayne St. Pierre offers his reasoning for joining the first CLTL program (video).

PO St. Pierre gives his students some encouragement at graduation (video).

PO Hank Burke explains how CLTL has helped him get to know and understand probationers (video).

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