Rehabilitation of Prisoners

October 13, 1965

Report Outline
Growth of Prison Work Release Plans
Problem of Sexual Privation in Prison
Probation, Parole and Rehabilitation

Growth of Prison Work Release Plans

New Federal Interest in Prisoner Rehabilitation

Changes in state and federal laws may give penologists better opportunities than they have had so far to practice what they have long preached—that society should rehabilitate as well as punish the criminal. It is in society's interest to do so, for “Today it is a frequent occurrence for men, women, and youngsters to leave correctional institutions not only unrehabilitated but more bitter, cynical, and anti-social than when they entered.” Advocates of rehabilitation contend that the prisoner who receives educational, vocational and psychiatric help is unlikely to resume a criminal career after release from confinement.

Despite all the arguments in its favor, rehabilitation has remained an empty concept at most American penal institutions. One reason is a shortage of prison personnel trained to carry out a rehabilitation program; another is the conviction, shared by many law enforcement officers and certain segments of the public, that the purpose of imprisonment is punishment, not “coddling.” This attitude may prevail even in so-called correctional prisons, where rehabilitation is supposed to be the overriding objective. An anthropologist who served a sentence of 23 months in such an institution has written that “Most of the prison personnel [went] through the motions of accepting the concept of rehabilitation because it [was] the professed policy of federal experts, but in daily practice they act[ed] on the stereotype of the cunning, lying, thieving ‘habitual criminal.’” Although the physical setting of the prison in question was “intended to nurture self-respect, social responsibility and hope,” the guards and administrators thought of prison jobs “as a means of punishment and a source of cheap labor, not as a way to develop vocational skills and good work habits.”

Federal officials from President Johnson down have expressed dissatisfaction with current penological practice. In a special message to Congress on crime, March 8, 1965, the President asserted that “We cannot tolerate an endless, self-defeating cycle of imprisonment, release and reimprisonment which fails to alter undesirable attitudes and behavior.” Noting that the first offender's “initial contact with our correctional system is often a turning point in his life,” Johnson announced that he would appoint a Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice and direct it to “consider how we can best insure that [the first offender's] first contact with prison will be his last.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 12, 2019  Bail Reform
Oct. 19, 2018  For-Profit Prisons
Mar. 03, 2017  Women in Prison
Jan. 10, 2014  Sentencing Reform
Sep. 14, 2012  Solitary Confinement
Mar. 11, 2011  Downsizing Prisons
Dec. 04, 2009  Prisoner Reentry
Apr. 06, 2007  Prison Reform
Jan. 05, 2007  Prison Health Care
Sep. 17, 1999  Prison-Building Boom
Feb. 04, 1994  Prison Overcrowding
Oct. 20, 1989  Crime and Punishment: a Tenuous Link
Aug. 04, 1989  Can Prisons Rehabilitate Criminals?
Aug. 07, 1987  Prison Crowding
Nov. 25, 1983  Prison Overcrowding
Feb. 26, 1982  Religious Groups and Prison Reform
Jun. 18, 1976  Criminal Release System
Mar. 12, 1976  Reappraisal of Prison Policy
Oct. 20, 1971  Racial Tensions in Prisons
Oct. 13, 1965  Rehabilitation of Prisoners
Oct. 09, 1957  Prisons and Parole
May 02, 1952  Penal Reform
Jan. 30, 1937  The Future of Prison Industry
May 08, 1930  Prison Conditions and Penal Reform
Sentencing and Corrections