You may remember "Changing Lives Through Literature" (CLTL), an amazing alternative-sentencing program created by Robert Waxler, an English professor, and Judge Robert Kane, a former Massachusetts Superior Court justice. The progam is based on the idea that studying literature can change lives.
Blog: Positive Youth Development
One of the key parts of the Reclaiming Futures model is "beyond treatment": connecting kids in the juvenile justice system with a network of positive adults, services, and activities that will sustain them when they leave probation, incarceration, or treatment.
No problem, right? Well, as anyone who's ever wrestled with this problem knows, it's a huge problem. It can be hard for probation officers and treatment counselors to keep up with what's available. Then, too, there's the always-tricky issue of what services or activies are appropriate for which kids.
So here's an idea from Community YouthMapping (CYM): ask the kids to help you map the services; together, you can canvass neighborhoods in search of places to go and things to do. It's a great opportunity to harness their energy, given them skills, and model pro-social behavior, and you'll often find resources you wouldn't find otherwise.
[Working with kids from a strengths-based perspective can be a powerful tool for juvenile justice reform. Don't believe me? In British Columbia, where the program described below originated, juvenile crime has reportedly dropped 41% in three years. While the cause of the drop can't be proven, the correlation is certainly compelling. The program is a great way for Reclaiming Futures sites to consider involving police officers, and should also inspire applications to teens on probation. -Ed.]
“Positive Tickets are issued to youth by Police Officers for staying out of trouble or performing good deeds. The Positive Ticket is simply a coupon, voucher, token, or note, that has value for goods, services or some type of credit, acknowledgement or appreciation. The Positive Ticket is just the beginning of a multitude of proactive, intentional, positive activities that can transform communities and shift mindsets and attitudes.”
Increasingly, I find myself representing “youth development” and “youth services” in education discussions where the primary focus is on improving high school and college graduation rates. The singular focus on preparing kids academically tends to ignore supports that are critical for many children in the education “pipeline” -- those in the juvenile justice system, for example. So I’ve honed a simple but effective way to get my minority views inserted into deep “education system” focused conversations about improving the education pipeline. Building on plumbing analogies, I’ve begun to talk about the importance of good insulation.
- Interested in what restorative justice looks like when it's implemented in juvenile court? Here's a long article about two restorative justice programs in Oakland: one uses a peer court to address low-level offenders; the other works with kids leaving detention after many months.
- Want data on the well-being of kids in your state? Want to know how your state ranks compared with others? Check out the KIDS COUNT Data Center just launched by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which also released its KIDS COUNT Databook for 2009.
The juvenile justice field has been one of the last to accept a strength-based or asset-based community development approach to working with young people and to working with communities to reduce juvenile crime.
However, based on pioneering work on a strength-based bill of rights for juvenile offenders developed by Laura Nissen, Executive Director of Reclaiming Futures and many other asset-based practitioners, the idea of a community development approach to juvenile justice has been slowly taking hold.
I just learned about a survey of America's teens conducted last year by an Illinois organization called UCAN that asked them to grade adults on various youth issues.
How'd we do? Not too well. Here's a sampling from our report card:
"Strength-based” and “developmentally appropriate” models are frequently mentioned and often encouraged throughout justice and treatment programming for young people. But between managed care mandates, budget cuts and staffing reductions, the reality is that one’s strength-based mindset and focus on youth development can sometimes be lost. So as we build and protect improved systems of care and opportunity for young people (as Reclaiming Futures tries to do), how do we assure that we maintain a rigorous focus on strength-based approaches for diverse groups of youth, families, organizations, and communities?
This is part 2 of my interview with Estella Rebeiro, senior juvenile probation officer at the Reclaiming Futures site in Bristol County, MA, about a local implementation of the Changing Lives Through Literature program. (See part 1 of her interview.)
Why do you think the program works?
The use of literature aids in the development of self-esteem, mindfulness and emotional well-being. The topics of discussion promote core values, compassion, hope, respect, integrity and responsibility for self and community.
Recently, I interviewed Estella Rebeiro, senior juvenile probation officer at the Reclaiming Futures site in Bristol County, MA, about a local implementation of the Changing Lives Through Literature program, which I introduced in a post last month. Ms. Rebeiro is also a certified schoolteacher and has served as co-facilitator of the Changing Lives through Literature Program for the local juvenile court since 2001. (See part two of her interview here.)
What are your overall impressions of Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL)?
It’s the most exciting and rewarding thing I do as part of my job at the court. I’m elated to even talk about it.
How do you reduce school violence?
It's easy: you get serious about restorative justice.
At least that's the conclusion I draw from an excellent report, "Improving School Climate: Findings from Schools Implementing Restorative Justice." The report, from the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), provides intriguing data from six U.S. schools and four Canadian and British schools showing significant drops in school suspensions and "behavioral incidents."
*Image by spunkinator from Flickr (CC License).
A few weeks back, I posted a "parents' bill of rights" from Texas, so it's only fitting that I also post a strength-based bill of rights for youth in the justice system (see p. 3 of the linked document) created by Laura Nissen, the National Director of Reclaiming Futures.
Now there's a model bill of rights for children in the justice system from the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, and a list of states introducing it as legislation this year: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York.
Upcoming Trainings, Conferences & a Call for Conference Proposals
- The National Association of Youth Courts -- youth courts, teen courts, student courts, and peer courts -- will hold a regional training in Salt Lake City, UT, June 7-9, 2009.
- Chestnut Health Systems is holding a train-the-trainer GAIN training July 21-24, 2009, in Normal, IL.
- The United States Department of Education is holding its Safe and Drug-Free Schools Conference in August 3-5 in National Harbor, MD.
- Presentation proposals for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP) Ensuring Safe and Fair Treatment of Youth in the Juvenile Justice System conference are due June 5, 2009, according to the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN).
- The Harlem's Children's Zone (featured in Paul Tough's book, "Whatever it Takes") hasn't just produced good results, it's produced amazing results, according to this editorial by David Brooks in The New York Times. The Harvard economist who evaluated the charter schools in the Zone, wrote, “The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes.”
Looking for an alternative sentencing program that doesn't cost a lot of money and which seems to have significant impact on reducing recidivism and violent offenses? I've got one for you.
It's been around since 1991, has been implemented in as many as 12 states and the U.K. and involves reading and discussing books: Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL). It was created by Professor Robert Waxler of the University of Massachusetts, and Judge Robert Kane of New Bedford, MA, and begun with the help of probation officer Wayne St. Pierre.
It's getting a little late to post about our Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute, but I wanted to make sure to mention a great lunchtime performance. In the past, we've sometimes been able to include youth in our conferences; though that wasn't possible this year, we were honored to see a local youth jazz band, the Trendsetters (seen at left) perform -- they even got some of us dancing! (Photo courtesy of Cheryl Reed; click on photo to see larger version.) Though it doesn't do justice to these talented young men, you can also see a video of these teens performing on the streets of New Orleans. (It's a pretty horrible video, actually; unfortunately, they're not yet on YouTube.)
The folks over at Guys Lit Wire blog have launched a great project: a two-week Book Fair for Boys, to get good books of all sorts (and all reading levels) into the hands of the male juveniles incarcerated in the L.A. County. The best news? You can help.