Changing Lives Through Literature: Bibliotherapy and Recidivism Among Probationers

22 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2011

See all articles by Russell K. Schutt

Russell K. Schutt

University of Massachusetts Boston

Date Written: July 12, 2011


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.

Keywords: probation, bibliotherapy, alternative sentencing

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

Schutt, Russell K., Changing Lives Through Literature: Bibliotherapy and Recidivism Among Probationers (July 12, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Russell K. Schutt (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts Boston ( email )

100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
United States
617-287-6253 (Phone)
617-287-6288 (Fax)


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