Criminologist and politicians have debated the effectiveness of correctional rehabilitation programs since the 1970’s when criminal justice scholars and policy makers throughout the United States embraced Robert Martinson’s credo of “nothing works” (Shrum, 2004). Recidivism, the rate at which released offenders return to jail or prison, has become the most accepted outcome measure in corrections. The public's desire to reduce the economic and social costs associated with crime and incarceration has resulted in an emphasis on recidivism as an outcome measure of program effectiveness. While correctional facilities continue to grow, corrections make up an increasing amount of state and federal budgets. The recidivism rate in the United States is quite high, while the cost to taxpayers continues to increase. For legislatures, recidivism has become the primary outcome measure. Assessing an offender’s risk to recidivate upon release from prison is one of the most important functions of a correctional organization (Brown et. al, 2009). Manchak et. al (2008) stated that the assessment of an individual’s risk for future criminal behavior is a routine part of practice in prisons and other correctional settings. Everyday correctional administrators must assess risk to inform important decisions about placing, managing, supervising, and treating offenders. This task has become more challenging as the size of the correctional population has burgeoned and the length of sentences has stretched (Manchak et. al, 2008). Additional time serve in prison has little impact on recidivism (Shrum, 2004). Measuring recidivism requires planning and commitment from correctional administrators. It also requires extensive follow up efforts from administrators, as well as, devoting resources to individual offenders who are no longer being served by a particular correctional facility. There are many factors that contribute to the rate of recidivism, such as poverty, unemployment and drug abuse. A successful study includes some type of comparison or control group. Comparisons must be made between those individual offenders who participate in correctional education and those who do not. Correctional administrators and scholars routinely attempt to identify the elements common among programs known to be effective in reducing recidivism or affecting inmate behavior (Withrow, 2002). More than a decade of research consistently identifies nine components present in programs that demonstrate reduced recidivism rates: * Treatment is based on behavioral strategies influenced by empirically valid theories of criminal behavior. * Treatment is delivered in the offender’s natural environment. * A variety of intervention strategies are employed to respond to a wide range of offender needs, particularly criminogenic needs. * The program is intensive (100 or more hours over a course of three to four months). * The emphasis is on positive reinforcement and pro-social behavior. * There is an attempt to match client needs and learning styles. * Aftercare is provided.
* Administrators and faculty are trained, qualified and well supervised. * There is organizational support.
Even though a reduction in recidivism is by far the most powerful and desired correctional program outcome, there are other outcome measurements that could be examined in addition to or as an alternative to recidivism. Other outcome measures could provide explanations as to why correctional education programs might reduce recidivism rates among inmates. Alternative outcome measures include: higher education, behavioral changes, incentives to participants for early release and post-release employment. Another outcome measures are cognitive intervention programs. These programs vary in technique and function but most share the assumption about the central role of cognition in fostering emotional and behavioral problems (Withrow, 2002). These...
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