Reading for Life

Updated: Feb 22, 2018
Evidence Rating:
Suggestive Tier


  • Program:

    A mentoring and character-development program for first- or second-time juvenile offenders with nonviolent records that seeks to build virtuous character through the study of moral themes in literature.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A well-conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sample of 408 youth ages 11 to 18.

  • Key Findings:

    A sizable reduction in re-arrest rates during the study’s follow-up period, which ranged from 4- to 46-months after random assignment. Specifically, 30 percent of youth in the treatment group were re-arrested versus 38 percent of youth in the control group. This effect was close to statistical significance (p=0.07).

  • Other:

    Limitations of the evidence include (i) the study was conducted in a single mid-sized town in Indiana, and (ii) the effect on re-arrest rates, while substantial, did not quite reach statistical significance. A replication RCT in another site would be desirable to hopefully confirm the re-arrest findings (with statistical significance) and establish that they generalize to other settings where the program might be implemented.

Reading for Life (RFL) is a diversion program for first- or second-time juvenile offenders with nonviolent records. RFL is designed to foster virtuous character development in at-risk adolescents through personal mentoring relationships and group discussion. Youth in the program study selected works of literature in reading groups of up to five participants, which meet twice a week for ten weeks. The reading groups are led by trained volunteer mentors. The 60-minute sessions consist of oral readings, journaling questions, and facilitated discussions of lessons about living virtuously that are drawn from the literature. The program culminates in a one-day community service project and a final presentation to parents and program staff. The mentors who lead the groups attend quarterly meetings to receive ongoing training and supervision. The program costs roughly $1,000 per participant.[1]

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[1] For this study, the average cost of managing a juvenile in the control group was $300, so the marginal cost of RFL per participant was $700.

Seroczynski, Alesha, William Evans, Amy Jobst, Luke Horvath, and Giuliana Carozza, “Reading for Life and Adolescent Re-Arrest: Evaluating a Unique Juvenile Diversion Program,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 35, 2016, pp. 662-682.