The Evidence Portal

Reading for Life

About the program

Reading for Life is a juvenile diversion program for first time, non-violent youth offenders. The program is an alternative to court prosecution that is designed to foster moral development in at-risk teens. 

Small reading groups are led by volunteers who engage youth in moral discussions and personal reflection. Youth also have the opportunity to conduct a community service project.

When participants graduating from the program they are awared the right not to disclose any charges or convictions of crime on employment and educational applications. If participants turn 21 and are not charged with any offenses for 3 years following, they can apply to have their juvenile records expunged. 

The goals of Reading for Life are to reduce recidivism and prevent youth offenders  escalating from non-violent crime to more serious felonies.

Who does it work for?

Reading For Life was designed for non-violent youth offenders aged 11-18.

It has only been evaluted in the USA (Seroczynski et al., 2015). 

A randomised controlled trial was conducted with 408 people (214 in the control group and 194 in the intervention group).  Reading for Life participants are aged 11-18. However, 199 of the sample participants are aged between 15-16, comprising approximately 44.3% of the total cohort. Most participants are female.

One quarter of program participants live with both biological parents. Family income was under-reported by parent respondents, however for those that did respond, average incomes are 10% lower than the county average. Maternal education was also under-reported by parent respondents, however responses indicate that generally maternal education levels for the sample are noticeably lower than the county average. 

The program has not been evaluated in Australia or with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities. It has also not been evaluated with culturally and linguistically diverse populations in Australia.

What outcomes does it contribute to?

Reading for Life participants as compared with the control group experienced the following outcomes after enrollment in the program: 

Positive outcomes:

  • Reduction in re-arrests for any offenses at any time after enrollment and one year after enrollment.
  • Reduction in re-arrests for felony offenses any time after enrollment and one and two years after enrollment.

No effect:

  • Re-arrests for any offenses two years after enrollment
  • Re-arrests for misdemeanors any time after enrollment or one or two years after enrollment. 

Negative outcomes:

  • No negative effects were found

How effective is it?

Overall, the program had a mixed effect on client outcomes.

How strong is the evidence?

Mixed research evidence (with no adverse effects)

  • At least one high-quality randomised controlled trial (RCT)/quasi-experimental design (QED) study reports statistically significant positive effects for at least one outcome, AND
  • An equal number or more RCT/QED studies of similar size and quality show no observed effects than show statistically significant positive effects, AND
  • No RCT/QED studies show statistically significant adverse effects.

How is it implemented?

The Reading for Life program comprises small reading groups of a maximum of five participants. The groups meet for 60 minutes, twice a week, for 10 weeks. The groups are run by two trained mentors. 

At the beginning of the program, each small group selects a novel to read from several options. In each session, the group read the book a loud, complete journalling exercises, and discuss the book. 

In these sessions, participants learn about 7 classic virtues: justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, fidelity, hope and charity. These virtues act as a framework for learning and personal reflection throughout the Reading for Life program. The journalling exercises encourage mentees to focus on personal life reflections from the content of the both the book and the group discussions. 

Mentees are also given the opportunity to practically apply these lessons. They can choose a one-day community service project to complete.

At the end of the program, each participant completes a presentation for parents, mentors and staff.

How much does it cost?

The Reading for Life program costs approximately US $1000 per participant. Accounting for inflation, this equates to $1412 AUD*. Mentors are volunteers, which reduces total program costs.

*All conversions made using XE Converter online in March 2021

What else should I consider?

Mentors are volunteers. Mentors undertake extensive practical and theoretical training. They also shadow an experienced mentor for 12 weeks. All mentors attend quarterly meetings for ongoing training and supervision. 

Running the program can save a total 65% of costs that would have accrued without the program, resulting from the overall reduction in offenses (Seroczynski et al., 2015).

Where does the evidence come from?

1 RCT study conducted in the USA comprising a sample of 408 people, with 194 receiving interventions and 214 in the control group (Seroczynski et al. 2015).

Further resources

Seroczynski, AD, Evans, WN, Jobst, AD, Horvath, L and Carozza, G 2015, ‘Reading for Life and Adolescent Re‐Arrest: Evaluating a Unique Juvenile Diversion Program’, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 35 no. 3, pp. 662-682, viewed 19 February, 2021, DOI 10.1002/pam.21916

Last updated:

14 Jun 2022

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