There are four main philosophies of punishment: (1) retribution, (2) deterrence, (3) incapacitation, and (4) rehabilitation. A historical review of the correctional system demonstrates that the popularity of the goals come and go with changing times and changing sociopolitical landscapes. Despite this, the goal of rehabilitation was reaffirmed in the 1980s and continues to be a leading philosophy of corrections. The goal of rehabilitation is utilitarian and argues that the purpose of punishment is to change the offender, reduce recidivism, and ultimately increase public safety.
The rehabilitative ideal rests on the notion that individualized treatment should be used to deal with criminal offenders because the causes of crime are many and are likely to be different for different offenders. The goal of rehabilitation is to intervene and change the factors that cause the offender to break the law. Findings consistently show that rehabilitation and early prevention programs are so much a part of the American culture that F. T. Cullen et al. in 2007 referred to these practices as a “habit of the heart.”
With rehabilitation largely favored as the purpose of punishment, the correctional system is faced with two major ethical concerns. The key ethical issue is that rehabilitation is done under the auspices of state power. If rehabilitation is not done humanely and effectively, then offenders are being “coerced” for no justifiable reason. The other concern is that despite pursuing rehabilitative efforts in good conscience, in the course of delivery rehabilitation has the potential to be subverted into tools of convenience in response to various administrative, bureaucratic, management, and organizational survival imperatives. Second, if rehabilitation is made voluntary or eliminated, then the state is not obligated to provide offenders with the assistance they need to live noncriminal lives. This harms not only the offender, but also the public. Also, if a system gets too punitive, then there are ethical concerns that the absence of rehabilitation can create gratuitously harsh conditions.
The Rehabilitative Ideal
The presiding philosophy of the first part of the 20th century was rehabilitation. The Progressive era (1900–20) was known for being a time of diverse social and governmental reforms. The Progressives believed that states could be trusted to help solve a wide range of social problems— including crime. At the core of the Progressive model is the rehabilitative ideal, which rests on the notion that individualized treatment should be used to deal with criminal offenders because the causes of crime are many and are likely to be different for different offenders. The use of indeterminate sentences allowed authorities the ability to diagnose and treat offenders with the objective of intervening and changing the factors that cause the offender to break the law. The assumption was made that crime was caused by these factors, so the focus was on the offender and not the offense. This ideology stood in stark contrast to the classical view of crime that maintained punishment should focus on the offense, and not the offender.
There were two concerns related to individualized treatment: (1) it assumed judges and corrections officials had the expertise to administer the system, and (2) it assumed officials’ discretion would be used only to advance the cause of rehabilitation. While the rehabilitative ideal was strong throughout the first half of the 20th century, the latter half saw a different story. Specifically, during the 1960s and 1970s the rehabilitative ideal came under attack by liberals and conservatives alike. Furthermore, the attack on rehabilitation was not surprising given the sociopolitical context of the time.
The Attack on Rehabilitation
During the 1960s and 1970s the United States faced extreme inner turmoil. Americans were faced with the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, urban riots and political protests, the Watergate scandal, and increasing crime rates. The criminal justice system was not immune to this chaos and disorder. During this time, many correctional institutions experienced prisoner riots including Attica and the New Mexico Penitentiary. It was in this social context that the criminal justice system came under careful scrutiny by both the liberals and conservatives alike, albeit for different reasons.
The liberals argued that since the government could not be trusted to advance civil rights, be truthful about why the nation was at war, or act with integrity while in office, it should not be trusted to rehabilitate offenders. The liberal view was that rehabilitation was a source of injustice and coercion. For example, judges were administering unequal justice and parole boards were using their power to compel compliance with institutional rules, not to reform offenders. The liberal belief was that this abuse of power resulted in gross inequalities of justice; therefore, the liberal solution was to reduce the amount of official discretion, in an effort to increase fairness, through determinate sentencing.
The conservatives also argued for less discretion among criminal justice professionals, but for very different reasons. The conservatives believed that the criminal justice system was coddling offenders and treating them too leniently. For example, judges were too lenient and put dangerous offenders in the community, and parole boards released dangerous offenders prematurely from prison. The conservatives believed that punishment should also be retributive. They argued for a punitive model of criminal justice, suggesting that the rehabilitative ideal failed and that the only answer was to stiffen the penalties associated with engaging in crime.
A major part of the attack on rehabilitation involved the belief that there was no empirical support for correctional programs. At the head of this argument was an essay that was published in The Public Interest in 1974. This essay would come to be known as the “Nothing Works” doctrine. In this review of the correctional treatment literature, Robert Martinson concluded that “with few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been undertaken so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism.” While other works during this time stated similar conclusions, this report would be used most often as the “scientific evidence” that rehabilitation did not work.
Although liberals and conservatives both agreed that discretion should be reduced, the two sides disagreed considerably in how severe sentences should be. Liberals wanted less and conservatives wanted more. Backed by Martinson’s 1974 study, the conservatives eventually won this debate, and the “get-tough” model emerged during the 1980s and 1990s. The get-tough movement was based on the theories of deterrence and incapacitation.
During the get-tough era, the criminal justice system went through a tremendous reformation. The programs and strategies that emerged were intensive supervision programs (ISPs), electronic monitoring (EM), house arrest, drug testing, boot camps, wilderness programs, and most notably mass incarceration. The research evaluating these strategies has been largely unfavorable. In the largest study of intensive supervision programs, Joan Petersilia and Susan Turner found that intensive supervision was not effective in reducing recidivism. In a later large-scale review of correctional interventions, D. L. MacKenzie found several categories of programs that do not work: (1) programs emphasizing specific deterrence, such as shock incarceration or Scared Straight; (2) programs attempting to increase control and surveillance in the community, such as ISPs; and (3) programs emphasizing structure, discipline, and challenge, such as boot camps and wilderness programs. Meta-analytic reviews have found that punitive-based interventions often increase recidivism. The research evidence for the get-tough era is very clear: Punitive-based programs are not effective at reducing recidivism or increasing public safety.
In the time period following Martinson’s essay, there grew a movement to “reaffirm rehabilitation.” While many criminologists and practitioners gave up on rehabilitation, there was a group of Canadian psychiatrists, most notably Don Andrews, James Bonta, and Paul Gendreau, who were insistent on proving rehabilitation could be effective. These researchers insisted Martinson was not correct that “nothing works.”
Perhaps the most famous attempt to challenge Martinson came from Ted Palmer. In a review of Martinson’s work, Palmer discovered that 48 percent of the studies Martinson reviewed did in fact show that rehabilitation was effective. Gendreau and R. R. Ross in a large-scale narrative review of the rehabilitation literature discovered many treatment strategies that did work to reduce recidivism, including those that were behaviorally oriented, those that targeted criminogenic needs, and finally those that had strong therapeutic integrity.
The task for the supporters of rehabilitation then became to establish under what conditions offenders can benefit from treatment. In 1990, Andrews et al. tested these conditions and concluded that appropriate treatment programs could achieve reductions in recidivism of between 30 and 50 percent. Appropriate treatment programs were those that were behavioral in nature, targeted high-risk offenders and their criminogenic needs, while being responsive to the unique learning styles of each offender. These researchers put forth these initial principles of effective classification and with the help of Gendreau and others developed the principles of effective intervention.
With the finding that appropriate treatment interventions can reduce recidivism and increase public safety, the correctional treatment literature exploded. M. W. Lipsey conducted a meta-analysis of juvenile delinquency programs and was able to replicate the finding of Andrews et al. In particular, behavioral programs demonstrated the greatest reductions in recidivism. Even in studies of intermediate sanctions one could find evidence of the importance and effectiveness of treatment. For example, in the RAND study conducted by Petersilia and Turner, ISP programs that incorporated treatment saw reductions in recidivism of 10 percent.
Public Support for Rehabilitation
Despite falling out of favor in the 1960s and 1970s, the public support for rehabilitation and the treatment of offenders has stayed strong. Although the American public still harbors punitive sentiments toward criminals (especially the violent), the public is also very supportive of rehabilitation. In two separate surveys Cullen and colleagues found that the majority of respondents selected rehabilitation as the primary purpose of the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems. These findings suggest the American public has a more balanced view of the purpose of the criminal justice system than many public opinion polls suggest.
Ethical Concerns of Rehabilitation
With rehabilitation largely favored as the purpose of punishment, the correctional system is faced with two major ethical concerns. First, if rehabilitation is not done humanely and effectively, then offenders are being “coerced”—losing their freedom—for no justifiable reason. The key ethical issue is that rehabilitation is done under the auspices of state power.
When an offender’s release from prison or community supervision is tied to his or her progress in rehabilitation, this has the potential for treatment to be corrupted. For example, it could serve the goals of something else, such as rule compliance. The fear is that despite pursuing rehabilitative efforts in good conscience, in the course of delivery, rehabilitation has the potential to be subverted into tools of convenience in response to various administrative, bureaucratic, management, and organizational survival imperatives.
Further, if rehabilitation is made voluntary or eliminated, then the state is not obligated to provide offenders with the assistance they need to live noncriminal lives. Offenders thus are left to their own devices. This harms not only the offender, but also the public—because offenders are released into society without proper treatment to make them less of a threat. Also, if a system gets too punitive, then there are ethical concerns that the absence of rehabilitation can create gratuitously harsh conditions. In order to dispel these ethical concerns, rehabilitation must show that it can meet its intended goals—reducing recidivism and increasing public safety.
While the public has remained steadfast in its support for rehabilitation, the concerns regarding the ability of correctional programs to change offender behavior should not be dismissed. In fact, ethical considerations should be made around the ability of corrections professionals to deliver quality rehabilitation services. There is mounting evidence that suggests not all treatment approaches are equally effective. Researchers have argued for an evidence-based approach to the choice of correctional interventions. Evidence-based corrections relies on science to drive practices that are effective, rather than on quackery, which relies on approaches that are unproven, ineffective, or even worse, harmful.
1. Andrews, D. A. and J. Bonta. The Psychology of Criminal Conduct. 5th ed. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson, 2010.
2. Andrews, D. A., J. Bonta, and R. D. Hoge. “Classification for Effective Rehabilitation: Rediscovering Psychology.” Criminal Justice and Behavior, v.17 (1990).
3. Cullen, F. T., B. S. Fisher, and B. K. Applegate. “Public Opinion About Punishment in Corrections.” In Crime and Justice: A Review of the Research, Vol. 27, M. Tonry, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
4. Cullen, F. T. and K. E. Gilbert. Reaffirming Rehabilitation. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson, 1982.
5. Gendreau, P. and R. R. Ross. “Revivification of Rehabilitation: Evidence From the 1980s.” Justice Quarterly, v.4 (1987).
6. Lipsey, M. W. “Juvenile Delinquency Treatment: A Meta-Analytic Inquiry Into the Variability of Effects.” In Meta-Analysis for Explanation, T. Cook, H. Cooper, D. Cordray, H. Hartmann, L. Hedges, R. Light, T. Louis, and F. Mosteller, eds. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1992.
7. Mackenzie, D. L. What Works in Corrections: Reducing the Criminal Activities of Offenders and Delinquents. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
8. Martinson, R. “What Works? Questions and Answers About Prison Reform.” Public Interest, v.35 (1974).
9. Petersilia, J. and S. Turner. “Evaluating Intensive Supervision Probation/Parole: Results of a Nationwide Experiment.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 1993. http://www.seweb.uci.edu/users/joan/Images/Programs_to_survive.pdf (Accessed October 2013).
10. Rothman, D. J. Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and Its Alternatives in Progressive America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980.
11. Rotman, E. “Do Criminal Offenders Have a Constitutional Right to Rehabilitation?” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, v.77 (1986).
12. Van Voorhis, P., M. Braswell, and D. Lester. Correctional Counseling and Treatment. 7th ed. New Providence, NJ: Matthew Bender, 2009.
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The success of rehabilitation versus punishment has long been a dispute in progress. Two of the responsibilities of the Justice System are to identify the types of crimes committed and to establish appropriate punishments for the crimes committed. The Justice System focuses on deterrence, incapacitation, punishment, and rehabilitation as goals. The evaluation of punishment and rehabilitation will display the success of the programs, the effect on the victims, the control of the offenders, the bearing on the community, and the financial influence on the public. This paper will reflect the various types of management used for those incarcerated and those under municipal guidance.
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Deterrence is recognized as having two methods of discipline that are vital to the criminal justice system; general deterrence and special deterrence. The intention of general deterrence is to make the public aware of the penalty imposed by law if crimes are committed. The intention of special deterrence is to cause panic to lawbreakers in hopes that potential crimes will be prevented. Both methods are used as scare tactics since past strategies were thought to weaken convicts and instill justice within the community. The methods proved effective if the convicts were rendered helpless, but results had devastating effects on the convicts that lingered well after release. Although both the general deterrence and the special deterrence methods of punishment were widely used and believed to be beneficial, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that in 1994 a total of 272,111 convicts were released from prison in 15 states. By 1997, 67.5% of the same groups of convicts were again arrested for felonies or significant misdemeanors; 46.9% were again convicted, and 25.4% were convicted for a different offense (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007).
Due to a number of existing reasons, the punishment implemented for committing crimes has not been harsh enough to deter the percentages of illegal acts. Although punishment is enforced, the variety of opportunities made available to prisoners for early release creates a mere short-term solution for society. Convicts can receive early probation for good behavior, voluntarily participating in the educational and therapy programs made available, and attending church services. Even if convicted to serve a life sentence or placed on death row prisoners are given the chance to appeal. Because the death penalty can be a lengthy process the likelihood of convicts appealing has increased. Once taking these options into consideration, individuals contemplating crimes may think the risks are worthwhile (Hargreaves, 2009).
Rather than generating short-term solutions for society by applying criminal punishment, rehabilitation is used as an alternative. Perpetual crime prevention techniques are engendered through rehabilitation. With community supervision, rehabilitation can aid convicts by teaching them how to become a productive member of society. Through rehabilitation, an education and vocational training can instill everlasting knowledge that will enable convicts to become self reliant. Independence promotes confidence which is a steppingstone in becoming a respected individual within a community; subsequently refraining from perpetrating potential crimes (Banks, 2004).
Another type of rehabilitation for convicts is therapy. The primary purpose of therapy is to access the problems that some convicts may experience and provide the appropriate treatment. By reviewing the convicts personal history, physical condition, and mental condition, treatment such as psychotherapy, drug therapy, or a combination of both, can be administered. Understanding and treating the condition is the first step in the rehabilitation of how the convict thinks. Helping the convict discover and understand individual behavior patterns can aid in lessening the yearning or need to commit future criminal activities (2004, p.3).
Effect on victims and victims’ families
The effect on victims and the victim’s families can sometimes create feelings of insignificance. Since many laws cater to the defendant, the victim may feel discriminated against. The duty to enforce the defendant’s constitutional rights may dominate the victim’s rights. Defendants have the right to an immediate trail, the right to legal counsel, the right to meet and oppose witnesses, the right against self discrimination, and the right to accurate legal proceedings and complete righteousness (Rogers, 2006). What about the victim’s rights?
In the past, the rights of victim’s were perceived as less substantial compared to present day. Although victims should have been regarded as the key witness, often victims were considered an aggravation. In 2004, President Bush signed the Crime Victim’s Rights Act that was primarily developed to launch the rights of all victims of crime and all adolescent crimes. These rights are also meant to deliver specific modus operandi, institute particular responsibilities and exceptions, restrict convicts from obtaining revenue from certain events, prevent any unacceptable behavior toward victims, and take accountability for consequences and solutions. The actual rights that were created consists of the right to attend proceedings, the right to reimbursement of expenses, the right to be heard in issues effecting the victim and the family of the victim, the right to be notified of any data relevant to the victim, the right of protection, the right of receiving restitution for losses, the right to receive personal property being held, the right to a speedy trial, and the right to remedies of victims (National center for victims of crime, 2009).
Many victims and members of society believe that individuals convicted of crimes should be required to carry out sentences of punishment opposed to rehabilitation through community supervision. Actual punishment seems more justifiable when committing crimes, especially in regard to violent crimes. Completely ruling people out of society by incarceration without benefits of educational or vocational training is vital to the acknowledgement that criminal acts will not be rewarded but punished; also commonly referred to as just desserts. When convicts do not receive the proper ramifications the victims and families of victims are subject to distress and emotional strain. If the victims and victims’ families’ right to receive restitution is denied then the burden of finances can cause additional hardship (Banks, 2004).
Victims and victim’s families can also receive assistance though community supervision. If a convict is released on probation under stern regulation then monies received through employment are paid to the victims. Additional programs are available throughout various areas that aid in victim assistance. Such programs can offer emotional encouragement, comfort for the grieving, a better understanding of the courts course of actions, and referrals. Committees sponsored through these types of programs also perform outreach to promote awareness. The strategy to increase awareness and accept responsibility for actions is significant to deterring crime rates. The committee members speak directly to the defendants and initiate contact of the defendant with the victims and families of victims.
Effect on the offender
Upon conviction, criminals can undergo a variety of mixed emotions. Feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety are common when separated from family. The burden of incarceration on a family unit can be tremendous, being one of the primary reasons for divorce. The capacity of such adverse emotions and mental anguish caused by incarceration can result in feelings of abandonment, hostility, social ineptness, and the growth of recidivism. These issues do not automatically disappear once released from prison, but linger causing further life complications. Unable to socialize properly can have an ill effect on seeking gainful employment. Facing ridicule from the family and community can add to depression, feelings of isolation, and loss of support when dealing with challenges (Rogers, 2006).
If rehabilitation through community supervision is allowed, many concerns can be alleviated. By providing specific criminals a chance for probation in place of a lengthy incarceration, families can remain a unit. Under community supervision, guidance can be given to those requiring substantial employment which can be frustrating once a person is marked as a convict. Defendants falling under the category of committing nonviolent crimes, such as drug related crimes, would be foremost in the rehabilitation program instead of punishment. Criminals regarded as addicts would be more likely to benefit from a rehabilitation program rather than a serial killer.
Social impact on society
Both the acts of punishment and rehabilitation create a social influence that fluctuates. This is due to the rising cost of prisons, rehabilitation centers, the anxiety of convicts coming back into the community, readjustments to living environments, and family conflicts. How the community envisions the courts findings creates much impact within the legal system, political system, and other areas throughout the nation. The need for additional prisons has also been influenced by the punishment and rehabilitation controversies. If the method of punishment is not successful then there will be an increase in criminal activity proving the need for more prisons. If the method of rehabilitation is successful then there will be an increase in prison population that attends the training and therapy, also proving the need for more space. Encouragement from different viewpoints in regard to the enforcement of strategies within the criminal justice system remains an ongoing battle.
Fiscal impact on society
The punishment factor has a tremendous fiscal impact on our nation. Rehabilitation offers a systematic approach to help convicts reconstruct lives. Another purpose of this method is to prevent recidivism, which lowers the prison expenditures. According to a special report from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “States spent $29.5 billion for prisons in 2001, about a $5.5 billion increase from 1996, after adjusting for inflation. In 2001, the cost of the prison system procedures exhausted 77% of the funds” (State prison expenditures, 2009).
In the justice system, the methods of rehabilitation and punishment are a vital part of the structure. Both types of strategies can be productive in governing crime if assimilated in an effective manner. Both methods should be based on the type of crimes committed, the history of the convict, and a complete psychological evaluation. By employing punishment along with community supervised rehabilitation the chances of deterring crime could positively increase. Perhaps the battle of punishment versus rehabilitation could be put to an end if officials were to confirm that this is a need for both strategies since different types of individuals commit different types of crimes.
- Banks, Cyndi. (January 30, 2004). The purpose of criminal punishment. Ethics and the Criminal Justice System. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/5144_Banks_II_Proof_Chapter_5.pdf
- Hargreaves, J. (2009, July). Contemporary comments. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 21(1), 148-153. Retrieved August 15, 2009, from International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center database
- National Center for Victims of Crime. (2009). Victim Law.
- Rogers, H. (2006). Defendant’s rights, know your rights! Law offices of Hubert N. Rogers III.
- U.S. Department of Justice. (August, 8, 2007). Criminal offenders statistics. Bureau of Justice Statistics.