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Program Profile: Reading for Life (RFL)

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on March 28, 2016

Program Summary

This is a diversion program in which juveniles ages 13–18, who have committed non-violent offenses, study works of literature and classic virtue theory in small groups, led by trained volunteer mentors. The goal is to foster moral development and reduce recidivism. The program is rated Promising. Participants had a lower chance of being prosecuted for any offense (including misdemeanors and felonies) and had fewer arrests than the comparison group.

Program Description

Program Goals
Reading for Life (RFL) is a diversion program in Indiana for juveniles (aged 13–18) who have committed non-violent offenses. In the program, juveniles study works of literature and classic virtue theory in small groups, led by trained volunteer mentors. The goal is to foster moral development in juveniles who have committed offenses, and reduce their rates of recidivism.
 
Target Population/Eligibility
The program targets juveniles who have committed their first or second non-violent offenses. Eligible juveniles are referred to the program by their probation officers.
 
Program Components
RFL primarily consists of small reading groups. During an initial assessment, juveniles are given a 3-minute reading assessment, to determine group placement (Rasinski and Padak 2005). The groups are small, consisting of no more than five participants of comparable reading ability and two trained mentors. The groups meet twice a week for 1 hour over the course of 10 weeks. At the start of the group sessions, each small group selects a novel to read from several options. Over the course of the program, the sessions include oral readings, journaling about questions developed by the mentors, and facilitated discussions on virtuous character implications that are found in the readings and during writing exercises. Journaling exercises often focus on personal life reflections that come from the content of group discussions.
 
All RFL groups are given an opportunity to apply the lessons learned during the sessions by choosing a 1-day community service project that is thematically consistent with the group readings and discussions. This is designed to promote reconciliation and engagement with the community. For example, a group that has read a book with an environmental theme may choose to do a river clean-up service project. The program culminates with a final presentation by the participants to their parents or guardians, group mentors, and RFL staff. Overall, juveniles spend about 25 hours in formal program activities.
 
After successfully completing the program, juveniles are not required to report that they were charged or convicted of a crime on any employment or academic application. When they become of legal adult age, if they remain offense-free for at least 1 year, they may petition the state to have their juvenile record expunged.
 
Key Personnel
The RFL mentors are volunteers who undergo extensive practical and theoretical training. The training includes 12 weeks that are spent shadowing an experienced mentor. Mentors attend quarterly meetings for ongoing training and supervision, and do not have access to or knowledge of juveniles’ criminal records or delinquent pasts.
 
Program Theory
The theoretical foundation of the RFL program is classic virtue theory (MacIntyre 1984). Program participants learn about the four cardinal virtues from Aristotle (justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude), as well as Thomas Aquinas’ extension of Aristotelian virtue theory (fidelity, hope, and charity). The program is based on the idea that explicitly teaching virtue theory can help youths discern between right and wrong. In addition, the program is based on the idea that literature can help facilitate moral development by helping youths vicariously experience situations and stories presented in the books, and relate the lessons they learn to experiences in their own lives (Bruner 2003; Seroczynski et al. 2015).

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Rearrests for Prosecuted Offenses (All Offenses)
Seroczynski and colleagues (2015) found that 2 years after randomization, Reading for Life (RFL) had a significant effect on rearrests for prosecuted offenses. RFL participants experienced a significant 62.0 percent reduction in the chance of being arrested for any prosecuted offense compared with the comparison group’s chance of being arrested. 
 
Rearrests for Prosecuted Misdemeanor Offenses
Two years after randomization, RFL had a significant effect on arrest and prosecution for misdemeanor offenses. RFL participants experienced a significant 85.0 percent reduction in the chance of being arrested for misdemeanor prosecuted offenses compared with the comparison group’s chance of being arrested.
 
Rearrests for Prosecuted Felony Offenses
Two years after randomization, RFL had a significant effect on arrest and prosecution for felony offenses. RFL participants experienced a significant 3 percent reduction in the chance of being arrested for felony prosecuted offense compared with the comparison group’s chance of being arrested. 
 
Arrest Counts for Prosecuted Offenses (All Offenses)
After 2 years, RFL participants experienced a significant 63 percent reduction in arrest counts for any offense compared with the average arrest counts of the comparison group.  

Arrest Counts for Prosecuted Misdemeanor Offenses
After 2 years, RFL participants experienced a significant 82.9 percent reduction in arrest counts for misdemeanor offenses compared with the average misdemeanor arrest counts of the comparison group. 
 
Arrest Counts for Prosecuted Felony Offenses
After 2 years, the RFL participants experienced a significant 66.3 percent reduction in the counts for arrests of felony offenses compared with the average felony arrest counts of the comparison group.

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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Seroczynski and colleagues (2015) studied the effects of the Reading for Life (RFL) juvenile diversion program on rates of recidivism using random assignment. The study involved juveniles (aged 11–18) who committed non-violent offenses and entered the juvenile justice system between June 2010 and December 21, 2013, in a midsize county in Indiana. Using a randomization procedure, 224 juveniles were placed in the RFL treatment group and 225 were assigned to the control group. The control group participated in 25 hours of community service. 
 
There were no significant differences between the groups at baseline on demographic characteristics. The groups were similar in terms of age (on average 15 years); race (roughly 45 percent white; 31 percent black, 1 percent Asian, 12 percent Hispanic, and 9 percent multiracial/ethnic); and gender (roughly 41 percent male). 
 
The goal of the program was to reduce recidivism, which was measured by arrest and prosecution for any offense (including misdemeanors and felonies). Arrest data was obtained from the county’s Juvenile Justice Center. A database maintained exclusively for RFL study participants contained demographic, psychological, and reading-test score information. Study participants’ arrest and prosecution data was matched to the RFL database records by name and birth date. Analyses compared the treatment and control groups’ recidivism outcomes and numbers of arrests for the first 2 years after random assignment. At the 2-year follow up, the sample size decreased to 262.
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Cost

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Since mentors are volunteers, the cost for the program is rather low. Seroczynski and colleagues (2015) reported that the total program costs for Reading for Life (RFL) have been approximately $224,000 since 2010, which is roughly $1,000 per participant in the treatment group. They estimated the costs for the control group as approximately $300 per participant. Based on these costs, the authors estimated that the RFL program would save society approximately $412,074 from the reduction in crime.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Seroczynski, A.D., William N. Evans, Amy D. Jobst, Luke Horvath, and Giuliana Carozza. 2015. Reading for Life and Adolescent Re-Arrest: Evaluating a Unique Juvenile Diversion Program. South Bend, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, Center for Children and Families.
http://econweb.umd.edu/~davis/eventpapers/EvansLife.pdf
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Bruner, Jerome. 2003. Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life. New York, N.Y.: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.


MacIntyre, Alasdair C. 1984. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Second Edition. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

Rasinski, T.V., and N.D. Pudak. 2005. “Fluency Beyond the Primary Grades: Helping Adolescent Readers.” Voices from the Middle 13:34–41.


Seroczynski, A. D., Scott P. Johnson, Kristen Lamb, and Brian Gustman. 2011. “The Hidden Virtues of Harry Potter: Using J.K. Rowling’s Novels to Facilitate Virtuous Character Development.” Journal of Research in Character Education 9(1):1–24.


Seroczynski, A. D. 2012. “Case Study: Reading for Life.” In P. M. Brown, M. Corrigan, & A. H. D’Alessandro (Eds.). The Handbook of Prosocial Education. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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Related Practices

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:

Juvenile Diversion Programs
An intervention strategy that redirects youths away from formal processing in the juvenile justice system, while still holding them accountable for their actions. The practice is rated Promising for reducing recidivism rates of juveniles who participated in diversion programming compared with juveniles who were formally processed in the justice system.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Age: 11 - 18

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Suburban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Program Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Diversion, Mentoring

Targeted Population: First Time Offenders, Young Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide

Program Developer:
A.D. Seroczynski
Faculty Affiliate
University of Notre Dame, Center for Children and Families
1602 N. Ironwood
South Bend IN 46635
Phone: 574.239.8415
Fax: 574.239.8323
Website
Email

Program Director:
Laura Chodacki Baker
Executive Director
Reading for Life Inc.
1000 S. Michigan Street
South Bend IN 46601
Phone: 574.235.5417
Fax: 574.235.5342
Website
Email

Program Director:
Amy Jobst
Assistant Director
Reading for Life Inc.
1000 S. Michigan Street
South Bend IN 46601
Phone: 574.235.5317
Fax: 574.235.5342
Website
Email