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Learn about probation programs

Find out about programs available to probationers and their families.

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Changing Lives through Literature

Did you know that some Massachusetts probationers can earn credits off their probation terms by participating in and graduating from a Changing Lives Through Literature program?

What is CLTL program?
In a Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program, probationers participate with a judge, probation officer, and a facilitator in a collaborative setting to discuss assigned readings. CLTL is premised on believing in the transformative power of literature, and the value of sharing ideas in a group setting. 

Programs may be in a variety of forms, depending on the needs of each community. Some CLTL programs may consist of only men or women probationers, while other programs may have a mixed group of participants. In addition, CLTL has programs designed specifically for juvenile offenders or incarcerated individuals, as well as a unique program is also available for families through the Probate and Family Court. 

The CLTL program centers around a discussion about diverse works of literature, poetry, and/or memoirs. Classes meet once a week for 6 to 14 weeks. Judicial involvement and participation are critical components of a successful CLTL program. The judge and probation officer complete all assignments, attend each meeting, and participate actively in the discussion. Often the class has been compared to a book group where everyone can express their thoughts about the readings.  

Probationers who successfully complete the program are typically given three months off their term of probation.

Goals of the CLTL:
The goal of the program is for probationers to receive the benefits that come from reading literature and discussing it with others in a group setting that includes a judge, probation officer, and literature professor.  The direct benefits include better critical thinking, a sense of accomplishment, increased self-reflection, and greater awareness.  Graduates and some research indicate that these benefits, in turn, lead to better decision-making in matters ranging from pursuing education, to increased confidence, and more constructive communication with others, to less recidivism.

A CLTL program will succeed when the judge, probation officer, and facilitator all believe in the power of words, characters, and finely spun tales to capture the reader’s attention, introduce fresh thoughts, and plant seeds of ambition. Participants in the program will ideally develop a sense of personal growth, a sense of hope, and a continuing curiosity to learn more about themselves and others.

Graduations:
The classes end with a graduation ceremony, where family and friends of the participants are invited to join the event. The judge sponsors and orchestrates the graduation ceremony at the end of the program, which is recommended to take place in the judge’s courtroom and includes the presentation of a diploma and a book to each graduate, as well as remarks by the judge, the probation officer, the facilitator, as well as those graduates who wish to speak. Participants share what they have learned in the class and how they have changed. It is a powerful event. Many of the participants give feedback on the program and how it has helped them change and lead more productive lives. Some participants even return to college or begin taking classes.

The Feedback:
Graduates of Changing Lives Through Literature report feeling a sense of accomplishment, more confidence, and a more positive view of the court system, judges, and their probation officers. We also gather feedback directly from the participants - here are some quotes from our 2023 Fall Semester Feedback survey:

We asked: what was the best part of the program?

  • “It helped me to see how others can perceive the same situation as you but in a different way.”
  • “I loved that we are in the class with the probation officers and a Judge! It was intimidating at first but they were all down to earth and sweet.”

We asked: how was the program useful?

  • “Helped me work on social settings and communications with others.”
  • “It helped build my confidence in speaking in front of people. It reignited my love of reading.”
  • “Made me do a lot of self-reflection.”
  • “It taught me how to break down the literature to get a better understanding.”

This isn’t new! CLTL has been around for 33 years. Here is a brief history:
The Changing Lives Through Literature program was established in 1991 by a judge, a probation officer, and a professor to seek better results with recidivism. They came up with the idea of reading novels together. The program works best with a facilitator (usually a professor or high school teacher) who leads the discussion with the probationers, judge, and probation officers.  Everyone is equal in the classroom, and everyone participates in the discussion.

What can inspire judges, probation officers, and facilitators to become involved with CLTL?
Seeing a graduation ceremony makes the audience take notice. Graduates nearly always display a sense of pride and deep accomplishment. When graduates speak about their experiences in the program, they reflect genuine appreciation for the opportunity to be involved in CLTL, and many point to concrete changes they have made as a result of the experience, such as beginning or returning to school, reading more on their own, or improving job performance or personal relationships.

Teaming interested judges and probation officers with facilitators can produce amazing results. Judges and probation officers often look forward to developing new insights and better skills. Facilitators may have knowledge about language, composition, and oral expression that informs what judges and probation officers do. They can bring fresh ideas about how stories, words, and discussions can enlighten all of us.

People who appear as litigants in court often see judges, probation officers, and other court staff as elite and remote individuals, who administer punishment or dispense rulings in a mysterious and arbitrary manner. Sitting around a table listening to and sharing insights about stories with judges and probation officers helps to eradicate mistrust and misperceptions for CLTL participants. It may also breed an enhanced appreciation for the credibility of the court system. Participation in this program also provides insight into the value of reflection and dialogue.

Where and how can I find a program or start a program?
If you are interested in learning more about Changing Lives Through Literature, please email the CLTL program administrator at: cltl@jud.state.ma.us

Additional Resources

CHOICE

CHOICE is an intensive probation supervision program in the Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court. CHOICE offers youthful offenders the opportunity to pursue either educational or vocational goals as an alternative to incarceration.

Heroin Education Awareness Task Force Program (HEAT)

The Heroin Education Awareness Taskforce (HEAT) focuses on education, outreach, and treatment. Created in 2005 by CPO Vincent Piro, Jr., and PO Michael Higgins of Woburn District Court to address the growing opiate crisis among young adults, HEAT is a partnership of probation, police, firefighters, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, treatment facilities, courts, emergency rooms, community coalitions and organizations, schools, and parents. HEAT currently serves 7 communities: 

  • Burlington
  • North Reading
  • Reading
  • Stoneham
  • Wilmington
  • Winchester
  • Woburn

Probation and the task force work with police officers from these 7 towns to educate the communities they serve. HEAT was one of the first opiate task forces in the nation to challenge the stigma and misconceptions surrounding drug addiction by providing educational outreach, intervention, and access to treatment. To date, HEAT has referred over 3,000 people to treatment, and educated more than 6,000 young adults, parents, and families. HEAT has hosted 11 annual educational conferences with more than 300 professional attendees each year.

Operation NiteLite

The NiteLite Program is one of the longest-running Massachusetts probation programs. This community supervision program pairs probation officers with local police on home and neighborhood visits. Operation NiteLite has spawned a number of unique probation initiatives throughout the state. It has also served as a model for national and international law enforcement.

Parenting initiatives (motherhood and fatherhood programs)

These programs are 12-week parenting programs in which offenders are taught parenting skills and how to be better role models to their children. Probationers attend weekly lectures and interactive sessions on issues that include domestic violence, substance abuse, employment, and good nutrition.

Fatherhood Programs

The Massachusetts Probation Service offers 13 Fatherhood Programs statewide in 8 counties. Program participants are ordered by a judge to attend the 12-week Fatherhood Program based on a probation officer’s recommendation.

This program features a series of workshops, presentations, and discussion groups. Topics highlighted in these sessions include child development, communications skills, domestic and family violence, men’s health, substance abuse, employment, education, and legal matters, such as child support. Judges, clergy, social service providers, and representatives from state agencies, such as the Department of Revenue (DOR), are among the guest speakers.

The program culminates with a graduation ceremony during the 13th week where the fathers’ accomplishments are celebrated and acknowledged. Past participants have reported positive outcomes, such as re-establishing relationships with their children as well as learning new approaches to positive interaction with the mothers of their children.

Shakespeare and the Courts

Selected juveniles currently on probation or under the supervision of the courts are ordered to participate and complete an intensive acting/communications program under the supervision of professional actors from the Lenox-based Shakespeare & Co. Juveniles participate in a 6-week session which entails attending four 3-hour sessions each week. These sessions culminate with a live evening performance by the youth before an audience.

Woman/womanhood programs

These multi-week programs for female probationers are designed to prevent recidivism and help women offenders achieve healthy lives free of violence, drugs, and crime. Probationers in these programs attend classes that address domestic violence, women’s health, substance abuse, and job readiness skills.  

Contact   for Learn about probation programs

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Last updated: June 11, 2024

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