- The results of the Reading for Life program show large and statistically significant drops in future arrests for participating youth. This drop is especially large for more serious offenses, and the program is found to be most effective for male, minority, and low-income participants.
- Those who participated in Reading for Life had a 60% reduction in the likelihood they would be prosecuted for any offense within two years of completing the program.
- On average, two years after completing the program, participants saw 63% fewer prosecuted arrests and 80% fewer prosecuted felony arrests compared with non-participants. Prosecuted felonies also fell by 50% over the average of the control group.
- Though few diversion programs are shown to be effective, this research contributes to the growing body of evidence that diversion programs with a mentorship component have better outcomes.
Over the course of the Reading for Life study, 224 juveniles convicted of an offense were randomly assigned into the Reading for Life program by a lottery. The 225 juveniles assigned into the control group participated in an alternate diversion program focused on community service. Since the study launched in 2010, LEO researchers have been comparing the recidivism rates and educational outcomes of those who participated in Reading for Life with those who did not.
What We Learned
The early results of the Reading for Life program are promising. Young offenders who joined their peers in Reading for Life’s small, mentor-led reading groups experienced a significant drop in the likelihood of future arrests. This decline is especially large for more serious offenses and for minority, male, and low-income participants.
On average, two years after successfully completing Reading for Life, participants had 63% fewer prosecuted arrests and 80% fewer prosecuted felony arrests compared to non-participants. And, those in the treatment group saw a 60% reduction in the probability of being prosecuted for an offense of any type within two years of completing Reading for Life.
In addition to its success with minority, low-income, and male participants, the study results also suggest that the program is particularly effective for young women.
Though few diversion programs are shown to be successful, those that include a mentorship component are more likely to have positive results. And given LEO’s evaluation of Reading for Life, so are programs that engage and empower young offenders through the study of character development and virtue ethics.
Since the study’s completion, the full results have been published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. And, since its release, LEO’s analysis of Reading for Life has been featured in the National Institute of Justice Crime Solutions database and Economic Costs of Youth Disadvantage and High-Return Opportunities for Change, a report written by President Obama’s Economic Advisors.
Where We’re Going
The Reading for Life study was first implemented in 2010 at the Juvenile Justice Center in St. Joseph County, Indiana. Since its conclusion, and in light of its promising early results, the study has expanded. It’s currently being replicated at two additional sites in Clark County, Ohio and Madison County, Indiana.
Now, LEO researchers are interested not only in the program’s impact on recidivism, but also on the educational outcomes of participants. Are youth who complete the Reading for Life program more likely to graduate from high school? Enroll in college? More questions, more research. More hope.
Learn with us.