Can Prisons Rehabilitate Criminals?

August 4, 1989

Report Outline
Special Focus


For most of the 20th century, society put more emphasis on rehabilitating criminals than on punishing them. But in the mid-1970s, with mounting public concern about the threat of crime and growing skepticism about the effectiveness of rehabilitation, Americans began to focus on two other purposes of prison—retribution and public safety. Now, however, prisons have become severely overcrowded, and policy makers are taking another look at rehabilitation and alternative corrections programs.

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When President Bush introduced his administration's crime-prevention package last May, there was no talk about rehabilitating criminals. Bush's recommendations had a different theme: “lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the -key.”

“A common-sense approach to crime means that if we're going to affect people's behavior,” the president said, “we must have a criminal-justice system in which there is an expectation that if you commit a crime, you will be caught; and if caught, you will be prosecuted; and if convicted, you will do the time. For far too long, a privileged class of violent and repeat offenders have calculated that crime really does pay—that our criminal-justice system is a crapshoot where the risks are worth the rewards. Well, it's time we change the odds—and up the stakes enormously,”

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
Crime and Law Enforcement
Sentencing and Corrections