In a Changing Lives Through Literature program, the judge gives judicial authorization, serves as a role model for the clients, and, ideally, participates as fully as the schedule allows in the CLTL sessions.
Without the judge's approval, a traditional CLTL program (for offenders sentenced from the bench or referred by probation) cannot take place. Because judges who participate in CLTL start out by believing that literature can be a means to changing offenders' behaviors, they are important in supporting the involvement of the probation officers (POs) (see The Role of the Community Judge by the Honorable Joseph Reardon). Judges also represent the connection between the university and the courtroom.
While the PO often chooses clients from a dossier of probationers, in many courts, the judge "senses" that a woman or man who appears before the bench would be suitable for CLTL. The judge then sentences this client to the program (see Sentencing Defendants to Read). Often a good CLTL candidate is recognized in the courtroom. As the Honorable Joseph Dever, Presiding Justice of the Lynn District Court in Massachusetts said, a good candidate may be an offender with "a minimum degree of literacy and a maximum degree of motivation." At the bench, a judge may conclude that an effective sentence will involve CLTL.
Once the program is underway, the judge attends many of the CLTL sessions, and by demonstrating a personal involvement with the literature, becomes a role model for the students. That is, he or she functions as a regular member of the reading group, sharing insights and honestly depicting his or her appraisal of characters and themes. Many judges talk about how the program has affected their understanding of the role of a community judge or of the ability of literature and literature discussions to foster change among so many of the probationers (see Judge Dever's words in the Lynn-Lowell paradigm). By listening to the ideas of the men or women on probation, many of whom feel ignored by authority or unable to believe in themselves, the judge gives credit to their opinions and, thus, to their lives. By sharing his or her views, the judge provokes discussion, enables thought, and helps facilitate the turnaround that occurs in many CLTL students. The judge steps off the bench. As the Honorable Joseph Reardon, First Justice of Barnstable District Court in Barnstable, Massachusetts, said, by participating in the program, each judge is an "exemplar of justice, a proponent for personal growth and change."
Based on their availability, some judges attend all the sessions; others attend a few. Still others attend sessions at which the judge's presence is deemed to be most important by the team. It is clear from the testimonials found throughout this website that the judge's involvement is key to the success of the program.
Judges lead CLTL graduations, which are often a public recognition of the students' success in the judge's courtroom, and they may adjust sentencing for the offenders. Some judges feel a reduction of the probation sentence is appropriate for those who successfully complete the CLTL program, and some judges reduce court fees. Judges may decide that students who have not completed the program can retry later sessions of CLTL. Others see students who fail to live up to their CLTL probation contracts return to their courtroom to have their reduced sentences revoked.
Throughout this site, there are areas of interest to you as a judge. If you are considering initiating a program, browse through the site. Discover the number of judges who are committed to this program by looking at Follow a Program and individual program homepages, and read what other judges have to say about CLTL. Most importantly, talk to other judges through e-mail or during telephone conversations. Finding an instructor is relatively easy. Approach your local university or community college or ask around. Many teachers are looking for a chance to be involved in a program like this; they will jump at the opportunity. Finding the right PO means looking for someone who will appreciate literature. Possibly an instructor or PO has come to you. If you can, observe an existing CLTL program to see how effective you can be as a judge in CLTL.
The Key Issues section will help you understand different perspectives on some of the many issues you'll face. Newsletters explain our history, and video clips provide a flavor of the CLTL programs in action, as well as descriptions of model programs. To see existing programs, browse our individual program homepages. On our site, you can also find a Discussion Forum where you can engage with others in discussing CLTL issues or ask questions about CLTL. This forum reinforces CLTL's subtle insistence on looking at literature in more than one way.
If you love to read and recognize how important it is to find a way to change thinking in order to change behavior, come join the ranks of other judges, probation officers, and instructors who find that CLTL has not only affected their clients' lives, but theirs as well.
Videos (may take a few moments to load):
Several Massachusetts judges discuss their experiences with CLTL:
Judge Robert Kane (video)
Judge Sydney Hanlon (video )
Judge Joseph Reardon (video )
Judge Joseph Dever (video )
Judge's Panel at a CLTL Conference (video )
Judge Robert Kane again (video)
Judge Thomas May (video )