On his blog, OnFiction, Keith Oatley of the University of Toronto posted an interesting article that compiles some research done on a prisoner rehabilitation program called Changing Lives Through Literature, sponsored by the University of Massachusetts.
This program is directly applicable to the recent fervor generated in academia that questions the uses of the humanities in the so-called “real world”. It is an alternate sentencing program that will convert an offender’s jail sentence to a period of probation as long as they attend a literature seminar. Changing Lives Through Literature is built on the assumption that there exists a “transformative nature of literature that works on everyone”.
As far as the results of the program are concerned, a comparison of the recidivism rate between participants and non-participants back up the effectiveness of bibleotherapy. A study by Susan T. Krumholz and G. Roger Jarjoura, published in the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, found a reconviction rate of program participants to be 18.75%. This is compared to non-participants with similar background whose reconviction rate was 40%.
Although the positive effect of the program has been measured, it is still only speculation as to how much of that success can be contributed to the “transformative power of literature”. The testimonial of judges, instructors and probationers seem to give equal credit to strong mentorship by instructors, a sense of group belonging, and the power of literature as contributing factors to the programs success. A participating judge in the program, The Honorable Joseph Dever says that, “By reading great books and identifying with the characters in these books, for the first time in their lives, [probationers] begin to look at life objectively instead of subjectively”. While students do cite being engrossed and inspired by the literature, Lynn Lowell says that “The judge, probation officer, and teacher – all authority figures to us – they were all there for us – to listen to us, guide us, and direct us. It was their belief in the program and us that helped me deal with a lot of shame”. and that “This group was a connection. A bond with other women who all acted one way and felt totally another. I wasn’t alone”. (CLTL website, endorsements).
Do you believe that reading fiction can change someones life? Makes them better people? Or are other dynamics responsible for the success of bibleotherapy?
“Combining Bibliotherapy and Positive Role Modeling as an Alternative to Incarceration”
Jarjoura, Roger. Krumholz, Susan. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, Vol. 28 (1/2), 1998, Pp. 127-139. Copyright 1998 by The Haworth Press, Inc., Binghamton, NY.