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Judicial Authorization

People often call, wanting to know, "How do I start a CLTL program in my area?"

Whether the call comes from a court official or a professor, the answer is almost always the same: "You need to get the support of a judge if possible."

That is not always possible, but the judge can be very helpful, and in many cases, a judge's support is crucial to getting the program started.

Although some CLTL programs do exist inside prisons and some CLTL programs are run exclusively out of probation departments or through day-reporting centers, the primary vision of our CLTL program has always been that it is an alternative sentencing program. That idea remains at the core of the program.

In its ideal form, then, the judge approves the program and then initiates the creation of a group. Working with a probation officer (PO), the judge sentences an offender from the bench and then the offender becomes a student in a CLTL group.

The approval and support of the judge is central to the start-up effort of a CLTL program in the same sense that the judge controls and inspires the working of the court. Once the judge agrees to validate the process, she has officially begun "the story" of the CLTL program, and, in the process, the POs are also validated. The court side of "the team" is ready to proceed.

Even in cases in which the judge cannot consistently participate in the program, his authorization resonates throughout the court and the general community, and so contributes substantially to the ongoing success of the program.

In addition, one judge talking to other judges about the CLTL program - whether informally in the corridors or lobby, at conferences, or on panels - opens the possibility of getting additional courts interested. Judges are crucial to getting the CLTL story started and to the ongoing discussion about that story.

How then do you get a judge to agree to start a program?

  • Look for a judge who believes in literature and who is committed to community justice. Judges are often attracted to the CLTL program because they have a passion for reading and a belief that part of their role is to help strengthen all members of the community.


  • Show the judge our web site and emphasize the various markers of success (from recidivism rates to judicial endorsements). CLTL has a clear record, dramatic at times, in regard to changing lives - reducing recidivism rates, putting people back on the education track, and enlightening folks.


  • Put the judge you have in mind in contact with judges who have participated in the CLTL program. Information and support to other judges can make a difference.


  • If there's an ongoing program nearby, ask the judge to observe and participate in the literary discussions along with you. Talking about the program is often helpful, but we have discovered that once people actually experience the CLTL discussions around the table, they are often convinced of the program's merits.


  • Try to get a single program going as a "pilot." A successful model can lead to long-term success. Our experience suggests that the quicker a program gets up and running as a test case, the greater the chance of long-term success. Encourage the judge to put one group of 8-10 offenders together as soon as possible. The magic of the actual experience around the discussion table is usually the most persuasive argument we have.


  • It is important to note, though, that just as there is a wide range of sentencing options and procedures from one state to another, there is also a notable diversity of judicial governance from one state to the next. When starting a program, we obviously need to be sensitive to this, but getting one judge to help spearhead the effort is, in every case, an important step forward.

    It is not absolutely necessary to get a judge actively involved though. A PO or other official connected with the criminal justice system could start a program with a professor on a campus if there are no objections from judges or supervisors. This has happened in a number of CLTL cases.

    Arrangements can be made, for example, to send a selected group of probationers to a program started by a court official (other than a judge) and a professor. The challenge here is to put a group together and to establish a team composed of a professor and a court official.

    Over time, this kind of program, meaningful in itself, could attract judges as well.

    What about funding?

    It costs very little to run a CLTL program, and almost everyone participating seems to get the greatest reward from the meaning and joy of the program itself. Nevertheless, funding is a legitimate issue to consider when starting a program.

    Judges and POs rarely, if ever, receive financial compensation for their participation. In Massachusetts, facilitators/instructors (professors) usually receive a small honorarium. In such cases though, it is not unreasonable to ask the professors to contribute their time at least once to demonstrate the value and success of the program. Once that pilot program is underway, it is easier to find further support.

    Currently, no central funding is available for the CLTL program, so each program must find its own way of generating funds, if necessary. In the past, programs have been funded in a variety of ways: small grants from private and public agencies, small gifts from private donors, donations from college funds, or as line items in state budgets.

    Video (may take a few moments):

    Three participating judges reflect on CLTL:

    Judge Robert Kane
    Judge Sydney Hanlon
    Judge Joseph Reardon



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