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Probation Methods
Submitted by Robert Hassett, Assistant Chief Probation Officer

I have been involved with the Changing Lives Through Literature program for over ten years as a supervising Probation Officer (PO) from the Lowell District Court. This branch of the program is run in conjunction with the Lynn District Court and deals with female offenders.

Although we participate as a single unit, the way the students are selected is quite different. In the Lynn Court, most of the clients are ordered into the program from the bench at the time of disposition, with the program as a formal condition of probation. In the Lowell Court, most of the participants are recruited by me from among the caseloads of the POs that I supervise. I offer a deal to the PO in that I will assume responsibility for the case during the duration of the classes and may request early termination of the case after completion of all requirements.

After identifying appropriate participants and conducting a formal interview with them, I present them with the opportunity to sign up for the program and then have them sign a contract outlining the conditions of participation. This contract lays out the main tenets of compliance. These include attending and preparing for sessions, completion of all reading and/or written assignments, abstinence from intoxicating substances, and reporting as instructed for all court appearances.

We have established standards of compliance over the years that seem to work for the majority of the clients and the court. We allow two excused absences during the session. The probationer must notify the PO of the reason for missing class and is required to provide a short written synopsis of the missed assignment. If a subject shows evidence of substance abuse, has un-excused absences, or commits a new offense, she is terminated from the class, and, after an investigation, a violation of Probation may commence.

All prospective clients are made aware of the rules of the program and the consequences prior to the start of class. I stress to them that this will be a challenging experience and that some may have initial difficulty with completing the assignments without a lot of effort on their parts. Some potential candidates opt out rather than take up the challenge. Whenever effort is observed, we do everything in our power to see that the client attains success in the program.

I must note the different completion rates for the participants from the Lynn District Court. Lynn-Lowell statistics compiled through 2002 show a success rate of 71 percent for the participants from Lynn, compared to a success rate of 54 percent for the clients from Lowell. I believe this can be attributed to the direct participation of the first justice from Lynn and the ordering of the CLTL program as a formal condition of Probation at the time of disposition.

As for the clients who were not successful in the class, there have been formal violation proceedings that resulted in new sanctions as well as incarceration. I believe that CLTL is only taken seriously by the clients and court officials when we show that there are standards that are enforced. We have been taken very seriously during my ten years with the program.

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