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by Peter Moskos

May 5, 2011

The Myth of "Rehabilitation"

I'm skeptical of the very term prisoner "rehabilitation." It seems rooted in a misguided sense of paternalism, implying there is some criminal class just waiting to be cured by us, the enlightened class. Rehabilitation implying there is something to "habilitate" in the first place. And this hogwash it is the very foundation upon which our whole prison system was invented.

But the truth is, and many people don't know this, we don't even try to rehabilitate. The Wall Street Journal reports that just 6% of prisoners were enrolled in vocational or college programs. Of course some argue against all programs for prisoners. But what's supposed to happen when they get out (as 95% of them do)? Is this the best we can do with our $60-billion-a-year government-run system of incarceration? Maybe it's time to try something else.

Even if we could "rehabilitate," could you imagine a worse setting than in confinement, surrounded by criminals? And if prisons are just punishment, aren't there better, cheaper, and more honest ways to punish? (Like, for instance, flogging ? But more on that later.)

[Also posted at The Agitator]


lahru said...

Rehabilitation? This guy knows all about it.


polo said...

In reading your post you make a good point that there needs to be some reform with the rehabilitation process because of the cost effectiveness, but with regards to the possibility of rehabilitating prisoners I feel that there is a possibility. You say that we don’t even try to rehabilitate but that is untrue. Over the past 15 years restorative justice has become more prevalent amongst the justice system. An article titled "Restorative Justice and Empowerment" by Kelley Richards writes that it is effective with regards to empowerment. Overall her argument states that the individual needs to feel empowered and in that the offender can become rehabilitated. Yet she feels that the programs that are available now don’t give a sense of empowerment therefore it might not be successful. Personally I think some criminals can be rehabilitated but to a certain degree. For one age plays a big role. I feel that young offenders should be actively participating because they have a better chance at rehabilitation. There are many studies that show that the part of the brain that is associated with decision making is fully developed until their early 20’s. Also children are more impressionable amongst their environment that may lead to them committing such offenses. For example there are countless of times that a child has dealt with abuse from their parents and ultimately ended up killing them. That situation in itself can be seen as impulse where the child just snapped after countless accounts of being abused. Yet with these crimes that occur, there are still some cases though were those children are sentenced to life in prison. With older offenders the type of offence needs to be taken into account. The most violent and frequent offenders shouldn’t be allowed to participate in rehab unless they have the chance to be released and in that case they need to be a part of it. Overall I agree that our justice system needs to be looked at with regards to the cost of it, yet with restorative justice it can be useful but only in certain circumstances.

Houston Lawyer said...

I think that there are many people that can be rehabilitated. I would much rather give it a try than what we are working at now. Unless you change the situation the prisoner was in when they got in trouble, they will only go right back to it. It is a sad cycle that we need to find a way to fix.

Wayward4now said...

True rehabilitative efforts are at work and have a proven track record of success. One program that I am familiar with is the SOAR program, at Harnett Correctional in Lillington NC. They boast a 3% recidivism rate over a period of ten years. It doesn't get much better than that! The downside is that they can process only 72 inmates a year, in two 36 student classes for 5 months each. That is expensive, but it works. So, my notion is to computerize as much of it as possible, develop once and copy 3 million times. It can be done. All it takes is the decision to do that. Or, just beat a man. That is better than being locked up. If a person cannot learn from pain, then he/she needs something other than prison. I would rather a person didn't commit another crime because he learned to feel the pain of others, But, in lieu pf that, experiencing his/her own pain would work, too.

PCM said...

I hadn't heard of SOAR, but a quick google search shows their recidivism rate is about 11%. But it is 3% is for non-technical violations, which is really what we want to know. But that is simply too good to be true. Something is funny here. Especially when it comes to sex offenders.

They may be extremely picky about who they let in the program and who they say successfully completes it (which isn't a necessarily a bad thing, but could mean it may not have greater application).

For what it's worth, it doesn't seem that expensive, at $7 a day!