Judge Simons said that after seeing multiple generations of unmarried mothers and fathers and their young children cycling through his courtroom, he wondered if adapting the CLTL program to fit the needs of the Berkshire community could help break the cycle of poor parenting. Judge Simons issues orders for families to attend the 12 weekly sessions, which meet at a local library in the early evening. Families eat dinner together with the judge and probation officer, and afterwards children attend an early enrichment program led by certified Head Start educators, while parents attend class.

"Literature is a great way for parents to engage and spend time with their children," said Judge Simons. Calling CLTL a highlight of his judicial career, Judge Simons went on to say that: "The program shows these parents how to model appropriate behavior, and gives them skills to deal with their children in a positive, effective way. It opens communications between parents and improves that relationship, which is a win-win for their children."

Another conference highlight, "The Power of Questions," a panel moderated by CLTL co-founder Superior Court Associate Justice Robert Kane, included WBUR Senior Correspondent Deborah Becker, Boston Globe Metro Reporter Milton Valencia, and Massachusetts Department of Mental Health psychiatrist Dr. Elissa Ely.

"This program is deliberately unruly and that's the point," said Judge Kane. "We want to keep it rich with creativity and imagination." The panelists agreed that ultimately it's listening to the answers that matters most in CLTL discussions, not the questions themselves. Everyone has a story to share, and through literature, probationers can learn how to emphasize with the characters they read about, and eventually, make connections with their own lives and with other class participants -- including the judges and probation officers who required them to attend the program in the first place.

CLTL founders
[L to R] CLTL Founders Professor Robert Waxler of UMass Dartmouth, Superior Court Associate Justice Robert Kane, and Professor Jean Trounstine of Middlesex Community College with Chief Probation Officer Deidre Kennedy of the Boston Municipal Court's Dorchester Division. Ms. Kennedy, one of CLTL's earliest adopters, has been participating in the program since 1993.