Theories of Rehabilitation

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Thoughts on Rehabilitation and Recidivism

The theory that prisoners could be rehabilitated and returned to society as productive citizens first emerged in the early 1900’s. It’s an idea that has since been debated for almost a century, as recidivism rates are often disappointing in the face of optimism. It is estimated that over 65 percent of prisoners return into the criminal justice system over time.

Detractors of rehabilitation programs believe that prison is too easy, and that criminals want to come back for a free place to eat, sleep and live. There is also a school of thought that says the only things criminals learn in prison is how to commit bigger crimes when they get out of jail, having built a network of nefarious allies.

Meanwhile, proponents of prison rehabilitation programs continue to advocate for greater funding of better opportunities for the incarcerated, to help change their behavior and learn important social and workplace skills. Their argument is validated by statistics from the RAND Corporation, a global non-profit research entity, which estimates that every $1 invested in prison education can reduce incarceration costs by up to $5.

While studying for your masters of criminal justice online, you will delve into these many theories behind rehabilitation. Some of what you learn will include how successful rehabilitation programs make a measurable difference for prisoners by addressing mental health and psychological issues and eliminating feelings of hopelessness about the future.

You may choose to specialize in this area if you have a true passion for improving the lives of those behind bars, and you certainly won’t be alone. There are many other dedicated professionals who are using their innovation and education to create notable rehabilitation programs like these:

  • The Lionheart Foundation’s Emotional Literacy Program for Prisoners, called Houses for Healing, helps inmates reflect on their life experiences, past actions, and personal responsibilities. The goal is to break life-long patterns of crime, violence and addiction.
  • Riker’s Island Greenhouse Program, delivered in conjunction with the New York Horticultural Society, offers a 6+ month curriculum designed to educate prisoners for transition into roles as professional gardeners.
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons offers literacy and skills programs, including the opportunity to earn a GED or study English as a Second Language. Parenting and wellness education is also available, along with vocational training.