Texas does something right for a change?

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Malice
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Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Malice » Fri Jul 23, 2010 2:11 am UTC

Here's the article. Excerpt below:
Spoiler:
With one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and the death penalty, the US state of Texas seems the last place to embrace a liberal-minded alternative to prison. But when Mitchell Rouse was convicted of two drug offences in Houston, the former x-ray technician who faced a 60-year prison sentence – reduced to 30 years if he pleaded guilty – was instead put on probation and sentenced to read.

"I was doing it because it was a condition of my probation and it would reduce my community hours," Rouse recalls.

The 42-year-old had turned to drugs as a way of coping with the stress of his job at a hospital where he frequently worked an 80-hour week. But cooking up to a gram of crystal meth a day to feed his habit gradually took its toll on his life at home, which he shared with his wife and three young children. Finally, fearing for his life, Mitchell's wife turned him into the authorities. "If she hadn't, I would be dead or destitute by now," he says.

Five years on, he is free from drugs, holding down a job as a building contractor, and reunited with his family. He describes being sentenced to a reading group as "a miracle" and says the six-week reading course "changed the way I look at life".

"It made me believe in my own potential. In the group you're not wrong, you're not necessarily right either, but your opinion is just as valid as anyone else's," he says.

Rouse is one of thousands of offenders across the US who, as an alternative to prison, are placed on a rehabilitation programme called Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL). Repeat offenders of serious crimes such as armed robbery, assault or drug dealing are made to attend a reading group where they discuss literary classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bell Jar and Of Mice and Men.

Rouse's group was run by part-time lecturer in liberal studies at Rice University in Houston, Larry Jablecki, who uses the texts of Plato, Mill and Socrates to explore themes of fate, love, anger, liberty, tolerance and empathy. "I particularly liked some of the ideas in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty," says Mitchell, who now wants to do a PhD in philosophy.

Groups are single sex and the books chosen resonate with some of the issues the offenders may be facing. A male group, for example, may read books with a theme of male identity. A judge, a probation officer and an academic join a session of 30 offenders to talk about issues as equals.

Of the 597 who have completed the course in Brazoria County, Texas, between 1997 and 2008, only 36 (6%) had their probations revoked and were sent to jail.

A year-long study of the first cohort that went through the programme, which was founded in Massachusetts in 1991, found that only 19% had reoffended compared with 42% in a control group. And those from the programme who did reoffend committed less serious crimes.

CLTL is the brainchild of Robert Waxler, a professor of English at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. As an experiment, he convinced his friend, Judge Kane, to take eight criminals who repeatedly came before him and place them on a reading programme that Waxler had devised instead of sending them to prison. It now runs in eight states including Texas, Arizona and New York.


Short version: Eight states, including Texas, now have an alternative method of sentencing criminals. Instead of sending them to jail, which is expensive and ineffective, they put them on probation and send them to a reading group. The group reads classic novels like The Old Man and the Sea and Of Mice and Men, and through discussion learn self-confidence, self-control, and empathy. The result? Actual rehabilitation, with many fewer re-offenders compared to control groups.

So is this awesome? Mollycoddling? Discriminatory against illiterates (who are less likely to qualify for the program)? You have to admit, it costs pennies on the dollar compared to long-term incarceration.

The article here (which I came across on Ebert's twitter feed) is from the perspective of admiring Brits wishing to copy the program. Do you think it should be expanded to other parts of the US or other countries?
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby PeterCai » Fri Jul 23, 2010 2:21 am UTC

reading? now that is cruel and unusual

seriously though, does it say what types of criminals would be considered for this program?

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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Le1bn1z » Fri Jul 23, 2010 2:25 am UTC

Wow. I'm speechless.

This is a really, really good idea. Amd what with the empirical evidence in its favour, I don't think there's any way to argue with it.

Unless someone's really dumb.

Or an elected official.

As for criminal types.... I'd suspect non or very marginal violent crimes, such as drug possession or some kinds of theft, depending on the profile of the criminal as well. The drug addict seems like a good candidate. A child abuser, not so much.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Malice » Fri Jul 23, 2010 2:26 am UTC

PeterCai wrote:seriously though, does it say what types of criminals would be considered for this program?


According to the article, "Repeat offenders of serious crimes such as armed robbery, assault or drug dealing."

Here's the program's website, for the curious.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Kyrn » Fri Jul 23, 2010 3:23 am UTC

Malice wrote:
PeterCai wrote:seriously though, does it say what types of criminals would be considered for this program?


According to the article, "Repeat offenders of serious crimes such as armed robbery, assault or drug dealing."

Here's the program's website, for the curious.

I'm more curious why this isn't implemented for first time offenders or for lesser crimes (which still has jail terms)..
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Jul 23, 2010 3:24 am UTC

I imagine "self-confidence, self-control, and empathy" are less helpful for petty thieves and drug offenders.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Kyrn » Fri Jul 23, 2010 3:35 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I imagine "self-confidence, self-control, and empathy" are less helpful for petty thieves and drug offenders.

Apparently not for your "drug offenders". The example in the article is clearly a "drug offender" even if he made his own. The drug dealing was technically to his family.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Cleverbeans » Fri Jul 23, 2010 4:03 am UTC

I'm speechless. My biggest complaint about Texas has always been the voluntarily illiteracy of so much of the population, I'm really happy to see they had the insight to address one of the most important issues facing repeat offenders and the state as a whole. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. :lol:
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Gelsamel » Fri Jul 23, 2010 4:11 am UTC

Wow, that is awesome. I'm happy to see the system actually treating criminals as people for once.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby videogamesizzle » Fri Jul 23, 2010 4:18 am UTC

Man, I'd break the law just to get in on that!

Seriously though, it's great that people are actually trying to help them instead of just letting them rot.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Fri Jul 23, 2010 8:25 am UTC

Give it ten years and there'll be a slew of drugged up armed robbers making off with rare literary works! :P
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Le1bn1z » Fri Jul 23, 2010 8:54 am UTC

TheKrikkitWars wrote:Give it ten years and there'll be a slew of drugged up armed robbers making off with rare literary works! :P


Hey man, yo, yo *sniff*... you got Goethe?
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby the_stabbage » Fri Jul 23, 2010 11:03 am UTC

So why don't they teach self-confidence, self-control and empathy in high school English classes? Turn them into applied ethics courses, in essence. It'll engage more students than "LOOK THE SHARK IN OLD MAN AND THE SEA IS SYMBOLISM GUYS".

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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Jul 23, 2010 12:10 pm UTC

This just in, Texas to torture convicts by subjecting them to the works of J.D. Salinger!
But for serious, this is great; I love that as new as it is, it's got a lower rate of reincarceration than prison (30ish% compared to 55ish%). I imagine as the program develops a more tested curriculum, as the discussion groups become more tried and true, and as previous convicts take a more active role, this will mark the beginning of a really effective means of rehabilitation.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby TheSkyMovesSideways » Fri Jul 23, 2010 12:32 pm UTC

TheKrikkitWars wrote:Give it ten years and there'll be a slew of drugged up armed robbers making off with rare literary works! :P

Oh God, this must have been how Mr. Tulip came about. :shock:
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby pseudoidiot » Fri Jul 23, 2010 1:00 pm UTC

My initial reaction is that it's great to see something that actually seems to be able to reliably rehabilitate criminals. On the other hand, I feel like conviction should also lead to some sort of punishment/paying a debt to society. Granted, they're put on probation which can be pretty restrictive.

It's something I'll definitely have to think about.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Levelheaded » Fri Jul 23, 2010 1:18 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:This just in, Texas to torture convicts by subjecting them to the works of J.D. Salinger!
But for serious, this is great; I love that as new as it is, it's got a lower rate of reincarceration than prison (30ish% compared to 55ish%). I imagine as the program develops a more tested curriculum, as the discussion groups become more tried and true, and as previous convicts take a more active role, this will mark the beginning of a really effective means of rehabilitation.



Devil's advocate...are the people chosen for this program already people who would be less likely to re-offend? I.e. literate, non-violent offenders, etc? How does this compare to other rehabilitation programs (training service dogs, general group therapy / 12 step, etc)?

Either way, anything that attempts to rehabilitate criminals and allow them to return to society instead of dumping them into the miscarriage of justice that is the American prison system is a win in my book.

Unfortunately, wait until the (pretty much statistically guaranteed) reoffender kills / kidnaps / rapes someone and the story comes out about 'liberal judges' sending criminals to read books instead of sending them to prison where "they belong".

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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby mmmcannibalism » Fri Jul 23, 2010 4:09 pm UTC

Very interesting, hopefully it works out as a good idea.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Jul 23, 2010 6:28 pm UTC

Malice wrote:So is this awesome?
Very.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby crzftx » Fri Jul 23, 2010 7:48 pm UTC

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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Jul 25, 2010 2:28 am UTC

Levelheaded wrote:Devil's advocate...are the people chosen for this program already people who would be less likely to re-offend? I.e. literate, non-violent offenders, etc? How does this compare to other rehabilitation programs (training service dogs, general group therapy / 12 step, etc)?

Yeah good question. I'd be curious to know if the chance of success is higher or lower with literate offenders.
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Re: Texas does something right for a change?

Postby Glmclain » Sun Jul 25, 2010 3:13 am UTC

Wow, this is really cool. Like, really cool.

Now us Massholes just have to try and figure out a way it looks like we figured this out first.I mean we're not gonna be beaten by Texas right? Right?...
I'm forwarding this link to all my teachers and colleagues, they'll be intrigued.


Like, really cool.
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