Increasing Focus on Prisoner Rehabilitation will Improve our Criminal Justice System

Updated May 13, 2021

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Increasing Focus on Prisoner Rehabilitation will Improve our Criminal Justice System essay

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The treatment that can be provided from prisoner rehabilitation is an extremely underused resource in the United States’ criminal justice system, and implementing more rehabilitation programs in prisons would largely benefit the system. Allowing prisoners to develop skills that can assist them in their success after releasement is a great way to cut down on the number of prisoners incarcerated and lower overall recidivism rates.

Furthermore, rehabilitation helps inmates correct any problems they have with readjusting to society and helps fix and correct the thinking of criminals, rather than simply attempting to lock all criminals away. Rehabilitation consists of many different methods, with certain methods being developed to treat certain people to get the most success out of the program. Rehabilitation programs are a resource that is not taken full advantage of in the United States. If these programs were fully used and in a correct way, then there would not be as big of a crime problem in the United States as there is now.

Problems of Recurring Prisoners and Their Communities

Prisoners face a lot of problems upon being released from prison and thrown back into society. A lot of these problems stem from the offenders not being well prepared and lacking certain social skills to get around in society as a stable, functioning member. Maria Borzycki says offending is closely linked to social disadvantage. The list of challenges these people face includes “poverty, poor education, unemployment and poor physical health, accompanied by alcohol, drug and mental health issues, intellectual disability, and poor social and communication skills” (Borzycki, 2003).

These challenges have the potential to increase the individual’s risk of being rearrested and reimprisoned. “Personal barriers to integration, such as intellectual disabilities, mental illness and poor life skills, feed into more systemic obstacles such as poor education, unemployment and debt” (Borzycki, 2003). Between this and ex-prisoners not having the means to acquire stable housing, the idea of bettering one’s life and getting a notable job that pays well seems almost impossible and the idea that they will become a repeat offender seems inevitable (Borzycki, 2003).

However, if these particular prisoners had received the opportunity to participate in a rehabilitation program in their time in prison, they would have had a better chance of staying out of prison. The rehabilitation program could have provided them with the opportunity to develop both skills to help them in social situations in society, and a decent education that could give them the chance to get a job that paid well.

“The effects of imprisonment have been felt at a community level in some jurisdictions in the United States” (Borzycki, 2003). Disadvantaged communities experience some of the worst effects because this is where many offenders live and are arrested. When these people are continuously arrested and rearrested, it can create negative stereotypes for the community as a whole (Borzycki, 2003). Prisoner rehabilitation is a tool that could assist neighborhoods like this. While in prison, offenders can learn how to better themselves, not only for them but for their community as a whole.

Disadvantaged communities like these are created because the offenders from these areas never learn from their mistakes and do not receive any real treatment while incarcerated. If even a single offender had the experience of rehabilitation while in prison, they could have a positive impact on their entire neighborhood, and help rid their neighborhood of the negative stereotypes associated with it. These stereotypes can hurt a neighborhood because the neighborhood can miss out on possible “economic and social opportunities” (Borzycki, 2003). Rehabilitation might not be able to help much with the pre-existing stereotypes, but it could help to provide offenders with skills that go against the stereotype, and ultimately, in the long run, erase those stereotypes.

Teaching Basic Life Skills

Providing prisoners with skills that can be applied outside of prison is one of the main ideas for rehabilitation. One of the skills Patricia Erickson taught to prisoners was the use of sociology. She described the program she taught to prisoners as an “opportunity to construct meaningful lives, both in and out of prison” (Erickson, 2001).

Giving inmates the means to have a meaningful life outside of prison is the whole purpose of prisoner rehabilitation. Teaching sociology to the prisoners “presented a unique opportunity to invite prisoner-students to use reflexivity as well as classroom materials to develop their critical consciousness” (Erickson, 2001). This is immensely beneficial because it helps teach prisoners to make conscientious decisions after they are released, and they would use this skill every day in the things they do.

These conscientious decisions would help keep the ex-offenders out of prison and away from being involved in activities that would get them rearrested. Erickson is not only teaching the prisoners who will eventually be released, but she is also teaching the offenders who are in prison for life. The benefit of teaching these people is, even though they will not likely ever be released into society to use these new skills, it can affect their behavior and outlook in prison (Erickson, 2001).

An example of their change in behavior is they may be less violent, while they spend their lives in prison, and in some cases, they may seem like a model of what other prisoners could be if they also took the time to learn what the model prisoners have learned. Overall, there is not any obvious disadvantage to teaching prisoners new skills like sociology. It can only benefit them if they are serious about gaining an education, and this can be applied to many different skills or education programs. These programs are allowing prisoners to better themselves because they believe they can be a better version of themselves.

Rehabilitation in Private Prisons

Prisoner rehabilitation is sometimes swept under the rug to increase focus on incarceration and the “get tough on crime” mentality. Private prisons incorporate some sort of prisoner rehabilitation into their structures. “The contractual structure of private prisons allows for “what works” in corrections to be built into performance evaluations.

The implications of this assertion for private prisons as well as the current status of the rehabilitative ideal will be discussed” (Wright, 2009). Even though private prisons only take certain aspects of rehabilitative programs into the assertion, it is better than other prisons who rarely have any sort of rehabilitation at all. Kevin Wright argues we need to maintain a focus on rehabilitation and reaffirms the importance of rehabilitation in private prisons. In the event that this mentality were applied to all prisons, prisoner rehabilitation would have a stronger effect.

Wright includes many examples of the importance of rehabilitation. These examples include “the structures of interest would be moved away from control and toward treatment, the private venders of treatment would be at fault if programs failed, rather than the offenders, new ideas and approaches to offender therapy would be promoted, it would give treatment more legitimacy in corrections, and it would put reform in capitalistic thinking and interests” (Wright, 2009).

Moving the focus away from control and toward treatment seems impossible and unneeded, but the benefits of this would include lowering recidivism rates, which in turn would also help the overcrowding of prisons by lowering their populations. There is no doubt that if people started to blame the prisons and their programs for why certain prisoners are failing, then it would take the stress off of the prisoners, allow them to focus on their education, and not be the targets for failure (Wright, 2009).

Also, new ideas for rehabilitating offenders are thought of every year, and even the ideas that have a lot of potential are shot down right away because they are control-orientated. Promoting these new ideas for treatment would change the way prisons are seen, from places of mass incarceration that hold all of the bad people away from society, to a place that focuses on correcting and treating people who have committed crimes, and turning them into functional members of society (Wright, 2009).

Giving treatment more legitimacy in corrections would allow for a stronger focus on treatment and better implementations of it in our prisons. Finally, putting reform into capitalistic thinking and interests would be a great idea (Wright, 2009). This would be a great way to increase focus on rehabilitation and treating prisoners across the nation.

It would be one of the best ways to show prisoner rehabilitation is worth looking into because trying the better these people for their release is more beneficial overall than just locking away anyone who commits a crime. The effect of rehabilitation in private prisons shows rehabilitation is an option worth looking at. Applying this level of belief, if not more, in rehabilitation to all prisons could have the possibility of reshaping our entire criminal justice system. Without a doubt, this reshaping could include a much larger focus on helping offenders change for the better rather than “being tough on crime” and only focusing on punishment.

Rehabilitation in the United States

There is a decent number of rehabilitation programs in place today and in the past show amazing results for their participants, but since the focus is not on control of crime, they do not get the appreciation and recognition they deserve. Grant Duwe studied one of these programs in Minnesota. The program studied two groups, 366 InnerChange participants and 366 comparison non-participants (Duwe, 2013). The purpose of the study was to compare recidivism rates between the two groups. This was measured in four separate ways: Rearrest, reconviction, reincarceration for a new felony, and revocation for a technical violation (Duwe, 2013).

The results of the study showed, overall, participants in the InnerChange rehabilitation program had lower recidivism rates than the non-participant group (Duwe, 2013). The program was beneficial in many ways, including lower recidivism rates, more likely to receive employment after release from prison, and low costs to run the program (Duwe, 2013). A cost-benefit analysis was done on the program and the results were amazing. The program relied heavily on volunteers and private funding, so the costs were extremely low (Duwe, 2013). Also, prisoners who completed the program had lower recidivism rates and unexpectedly had higher employment rates after release (Duwe, 2013). This should provide comfort and belief in rehabilitation programs.

Even though most programs will not receive the same support to have so many volunteers and private funding, it is still inspiring to see the programs work to rehabilitate prisoners. If these programs could get the same amount of attention and recognition as “getting tough on crime” does, maybe rehabilitation would be more of a standard in prison programs and recidivism rates would not be nearly as high, especially in the United States.

Rehabilitation Outside of the United States

In Europe, there are two different types of rehabilitation models used. One model is authoritarian and paternalistic and the other is a humanistic, liberty centered model (Meijer, 2017). The authoritarian model is based on the desires of the government and corrections. There is little focus on the individual needs and desires of the prisoners. This form of rehabilitation is designed to change the prisoner into someone the government desires. This can sometimes be effective, but not all prisoners are the same and cannot be treated the same way in rehabilitation.

The humanistic, liberty-centered model is more based on the needs of the individual prisoners. The model “assumes that change can only result from the individual’s own insight and uses dialogue to encourage the process of self-discovery” (Meijer, 2017). This model encourages prisoners to take the lead in their rehabilitation, making it so their success is entirely in their hands.

They can work hard and hopefully be successful, or take it easy and risk not changing after they are released. Both of these models have advantages to them, but the point to focus on is that Europe takes multiple different viewpoints into account and makes different forms of rehabilitation to go with these viewpoints.

This is a strategy that should be implemented in the United States. There are many viewpoints on whether or not rehabilitation is worth the focus in the US, and how it should be used, so having the ability to create different forms and models of rehabilitation could help show which is most effective and if rehabilitation is worth it at all. Prisoner rehabilitation in the U.S. is seen to have one form, so if an idea along the lines of this one where multiple forms of rehabilitation with different purposes are used, prisoners could be fitted for a certain form of rehabilitation that would be the most beneficial for them.

In England and Wales, prisoner rehabilitation is associated with gaining an education and basic life skills. Michelle Jolley researched a small study done on this type of rehabilitation program. The study included several forms of observation, including focus groups with prisoners in the program, questionnaires for prisoners who completed the program, and some interviews with the staff (Jolley, 2018).

The main findings of the study were teaching basic life skills, education, and vocational skills, rehabilitation is weaker than it could be (Jolley, 2018). These are essential aspects of rehabilitation, and these are rarely incorporated into our prison systems in the United States. Our focus on “get tough on crime” inhibits our ability to give prisoners a proper rehabilitative program that is effective in the long run.

It has shown in other countries around the world that if rehabilitation is addressed properly and given the amount of attention it needs, then it can be an effective way of treating prisoners and reducing recidivism rates, which in turn will also lower prison populations. The main goal of the criminal justice system is to no longer need a system, but it does not seem to be this way anymore in the U.S. with the “get tough on crime” focus it has currently. A focus on prisoner rehabilitation would help guide the U.S. back to this plan.

The United States “Get Tough on Crime”

The incarceration rate in the United States has quadrupled since the 1980s, which now positions the U.S. at the top of incarceration rates among industrialized nations (Gideon, 2018). The main cause of this placement is due to the policy in the United States justice system of “get tough on crime policies” (Gideon, 2018). Around 2.3 million are currently incarcerated in United States prisons.

Because of this large number, around 600,000 to 700,000 people are released in a year, or around 1,900 people a day (Gideon, 2018). Considering these large amounts of prisoners released, it can be somewhat unsettling to think about most of them not receiving any help while in prison, and are just as likely, if not more, to commit a crime as the day they were originally arrested. Now imagine if all of these prisoners had gone through a rehabilitation program. They would be much more likely to realize what they did was wrong and be less likely to recommit a crime.

The purpose of a utilitarian approach for punishment is to provide a punishment that will prevent the offender from thinking about committing the crime again in the future. This approach is directed more for the offender to realize what they did was wrong and learn from it, rather than simply punishing the crime itself (Gideon, 2018). This is the idea behind the effects of rehabilitation. Gideon cites Von Hirsh as defining rehabilitation as “any measure taken to change offender’s character habits, or behavior patterns so as to diminish his criminal propensities”(Von Hirsh, 1976).

From this definition, rehabilitation can be thought of as a crime prevention method, since the program would ideally eliminate the offender’s thoughts of committing a crime again. This is more beneficial because of the fact that while rehabilitation can be thought of as a crime prevention tool, it is also a way for the criminal justice system to treat the offender’s problems and provide them with skills that could allow them to live better lives. Since rehabilitation can accomplish two goals at once, it would be much more beneficial than other methods in the criminal justice system that mainly focus on one and ignore the other.

The “get tough on crime” approach in the United States has shown to not be as effective as initially planned. In an interview with William R. Kelly, a criminologist and sociology professor at the University of Texas-Austin, Kelly was asked what the U.S. receives for the $260 billion a year spent on criminal justice. Kelly replied with “an undeniably poor return on investment” (Krajicek, 2015).

Kelly went on to discuss how high recidivism rates from prison are, how many probationers end up failing, and called the focus the U.S. has on punishment and control “only a temporary reprieve from crime” (Krajicek, 2015). The “get tough on crime” focus the U.S. has is not working as it was supposed to. The elimination of crime that happens, turns out to be only a pause in crime. This could be changed if the prisoners were allowed to correct and better themselves before they get released. Prisoner rehabilitation is the only way this will happen. With how underused rehabilitation is in the United States, it has never gotten the chance to show its effectiveness.

Kelly also said criminal justice policies have “failed to effectively reduce crime and recidivism” (Krajicek, 2015). Kelly said the system has allowed many offenders to be in a cycle of entering and leaving prison, making them dependents rather than productive citizens of society, which they should be after leaving prison (Krajicek, 2015). With how high recidivism rates are today, the prisoners that are in this cycle are not doing anything for our society other than wasting our money. Getting them into programs where they learn to be productive members of society will be a better use of money, while also reducing crime and recidivism.


Prisoner rehabilitation is a tool that is extremely underused in the United States’ criminal justice system. If there were a larger focus on rehabilitation, the system would be in a better place. The current plan in the U.S. has proven to be less effective than desired, with crime and recidivism rates either staying consistent or in some cases, rising. A change in focus is what will fix these problems, as it works elsewhere across the world. With the small amount of attention prisoner rehabilitation has gotten in the U.S., it is beneficial. Having a larger focus on rehabilitation would be just what this country needs for the criminal justice system to be truly effective at preventing present and future crimes.

Increasing Focus on Prisoner Rehabilitation will Improve our Criminal Justice System essay

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Increasing Focus on Prisoner Rehabilitation will Improve our Criminal Justice System. (2021, May 13). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/increasing-focus-on-prisoner-rehabilitation-will-improve-our-criminal-justice-system/


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