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July 19, 2011

"Changing Lives Through Literature: Bibliotherapy and Recidivism Among Probationers"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by Russell Schutt now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Although probation is the most common correctional disposition in the United States, research indicates that standard probation has little to no effect on recidivism rates. However, a growing body of evidence indicates that enhanced probation programs can reduce the likelihood of additional criminal offending.  This paper examines a bibliotherapy program that is designed to reduce criminal offending and has been adopted in at least six states.  Called Changing Lives Through Literature, the program reduces probation sentences in exchange for participation in a small discussion focused on a book and including probation officers and judges as well as probationers.

A limited multi-method qualitative study was used to investigate program process and a longitudinal probation database containing offense incidents was used to identify program effect on recidivism.  Program participants (673) in five jurisdictions were compared to a comparison sample of 1,574 probationers in the same jurisdictions.  The process analysis indicated that many program participants experienced the program as transformative.  The impact analysis indicates a significant reduction in the rate of arrests before and after program participation as well as a significant decline in the maximum severity of the offense charged for those who were rearrested.  Regression analysis indicates that these declines were independent of background factors, drug use, and years of criminal history and that they were particularly pronounced for drug users and those who were older.  These results suggest the importance of a focus in enhanced probation programs on cognitive change and establishing new social relations.

July 19, 2011 at 08:32 AM | Permalink


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Ho hum. Once again, a study proclaims that a program is effective despite glaring selection bias in the sample.

Our lack of a randomized design also leaves open the possibility that unmeasured offender characteristics, such as motivation or social support, may have distinguished those who agreed to participate in Changing Lives from those who declined. In addition, the design does not take into account selection factors such as "readiness for change" that may be active criteria among probation officers or judges choosing participants. Each of these limitations represents an important direction for additional research.

Translation: the study doesn't prove a blasted thing. Maybe this program really helps. Maybe the people who volunteered for the program are the ones who would have done better anyway.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jul 19, 2011 2:03:49 PM

I am an educator interested in social science and math. No doubt the sciences are never 100% certain. If we get a 75% certain reading, we're probably doing well. Is it true that we currently suffer from global warming. I'd say so but the anit-science crew would claim we cannot tell for certain. Absolutely right. So keep polluting the environment by all means. I know there have been several studies of this CLTL program, and they all point in the same positive direction. The program has helped thousands of people over the lat twenty years. These studies further confirm what most reasonable people could conclude in any case.

Posted by: lynder | Dec 1, 2011 4:43:03 PM

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