Changing Lives Through Literature

""Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) is used in Fairfax County as an alternative to formal court action for juvenile offenders and in conjunction with probation and parole for adult offenders. The program uses the power of literature to transform lives through reading and group discussion.

Fairfax County's Changing Lives Through Literature program ( listen to the program) was featured on The Bob Edwards Show on Sirius XM Radio.

Program's Key Points

  • Small group literature-based discussions stimulate understanding and critical thinking for better life choices.
  • Groups may include probationers, court-referred youth, a facilitator, probation and intake officers and community authority figures such as judges or lawyers.
  • All participants share in the discussion equally, whether a probationer, youth or a judge.
  • Literature includes novels, short stories and poetry, depending on the needs of the group. Materials are provided to participants.
  • Groups may meet every week for a total of 10 sessions. Schedules will be determined with each group.
  • Writing assignments are a part of the participant's responsibility.
  • Certificates are awarded after meeting program requirements.

Why Does This Program Work?
The program was begun by those who believe that bringing carefully selected works of literature to criminal offenders may help the men, woman and youth gain insight into their lives and behavior, while learning that they are not alone with their problems.


  • Helps us understand ourselves
  • Relates to our lives
  • Teaches and delights us
  • Offers companionship
  • Transforms us

Changing Lives Through Literature

  • Addresses life skills
  • Builds self-esteem
  • Encourages thinking
  • Helps rehabilitate
  • Changes lives


  • Learn to be students
  • Reflect upon their lives
  • Learn to function in society
  • Become better citizens


  • "Staff who have participated in this program have enjoyed watching the students, diverted juvenile offenders ages 12 to 18, grow throughout the 10-week group."
    Amy Sommer Keating, assistant director of Juvenile Intake Services, Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court
  • "This program helped me to learn to think before I act and think about others."
    Male student in Fairfax County, age 23
  • "This book taught me to open up more instead of holding things in."
    Female student in Fairfax County, age 16
  • "This program is a positive and creative way to learn from mistakes and focus on the future."
    Parent of teen male student in Fairfax County
  • "The girls begin each class with wariness and distrust, but as time goes on, the walls crumble and the group melds into a coherent whole, with each member willing to respond in real and unguarded ways."
    Wendi Kaufman, facilitator, Fairfax County

Program Facts

  • Originated at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
  • Operates in 12 states and the United Kingdom.
  • Has involved more than 5,000 offenders with dramatic impact on reducing recidivism rates — more than 50 percent.
  • Has demonstrated cost effectiveness: less than $500 per probationer in this program compared to $25,000 per inmate annually (Virginia Department of Corrections, 2008.)
  • The Fairfax County CLTL program received two awards in 2008. An Outstanding Achievement in Local Government Innovation Award and a NACo Achievement Award.
  • Described compellingly in the book Finding a Voice by Robert Waxler and Jean Trounstine.

Discover more about the program in these articles:


A joint project of Fairfax County Public Library, the Virginia Department of Corrections, Probation and Parole – District 29 and the Diversion Hearing Program of the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Services.

Funding for sessions provided by Fairfax Library Foundation.

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