Rehabilitation: Does it Work?
The idea that more effort should be made to reform offenders is a theme that that been persistent throughout the history of American corrections. Rehabilitative ideals have helped lead the way in the renovation of the correctional system. Implementations of intermediate sentencing, parole, probation, and a separate juvenile justice system were all part of the process. While the rehabilitation process seems like the perfect plan to transform the incarcerated, can prisoners truly be rehabilitated, or should punishment merely be retributive in nature? Looking at Robert Matinson's theories in What Works? Questions and Answers About Prison Reform while comparing it to other scholars with help to answer this pertinent question.
A factor that plays a significant role in the potential success of a rehabilitation program is that the offender must comply with the guidelines of the program and be open to making a change in their life. Most offenders feel that the rules do not apply to them otherwise they might not be incarcerated. This means they have to shed their typically tough exterior in order to become receptive to the change. “An old riddle among clinical psychologists illuminates the issue: 'How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?' 'One- but the light bulb must be willing to change'” (Welch, 2011). Some still argue that even if the offender is willing to fully participate in a rehabilitation program the effects of the program still come up short and are not long term. This is argued because a majority of the offenders in these programs will find themselves in the not so favorable conditions they were in before becoming incarcerated. Many offenders will more than likely be back around the crimes that got them incarcerated in the first place. Not to mention they will face disenfranchisement in several areas of social life from the inability to get a job to the disqualification of public benefits. While they do face many challenges once they are back out in the real word it is logically easier to attempt to change the way an offender sees life and show them how to deal with the obstacles they face than trying to drastically change the conditions of society. Even Martinson found himself renouncing some of his earlier claims in 1979 regarding correctional rehabilitation services. “Martinson himself realized this. In an article for Hofstra Law Review in 1979, he wrote that “startling results are found again and again in our study, for treatment programs as 6 diverse as individual psychotherapy, group counseling, intensive supervision and …individual .. aid, advice, counseling.” As a result of these conclusions, he withdrew the contention that “nothing works” (Murray 06). His new way of seeing rehabilitation was mostly based on the realization that the research methods used to evaluate these types of rehabilitation programs were too rigid. They were not designed to prove effectiveness that were within these rehabilitation methods. Martinson eventually even admitted that some of the rehabilitation programs did have considerable positive effects on the participant’s behavioral patterns. “'It is ironic, but instructive, that whereas Martinson's 1974 nothing works article is among the most cited of criminological writings, his revisionist 1979 essay earned scant attention' (Cullen and Gendreau, 1989: 26).” (Welch, 2011). One of the main factors for the misunderstandings of the rehabilitation process is that there were some faulty methods involved. The methodological procedures used to measure and critique the process were seen as not being done in a correct manner. “In addition to issues surrounding weak evaluation, proponents insist that rehabilitation programs were further sabotaged (intentionally or unintentionally) because they were never fully implemented, lacking the long-term commitment crucial for a successful overhaul of the system” (Welch, 2011). However, many people...
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