Whether to rehabilitate or punish criminals is a debate that attracts diverse perspectives. Supporters of the punitive nature of the criminal justice system indicate that offenders should pay for their crimes through punishment. On the other hand, supporters of the rehabilitative treatment argue that offenders should have the opportunity to receive treatment and recover to become productive members of their communities. Rehabilitative treatment focuses on the psychological and behavioral flaws that underlie crime. Therefore, through effective programming, the corrections facilities could support their recovery before reintegration back into society (Gallant, Sherry, & Nicholson, 2015). It also supports offenders to develop useful skills and abilities that can help them to earn a legitimate living once they are out of prison. Various goals are essential in the use of rehabilitative treatment in prison, but the model has some challenges that policy-makers should also understand.
Three Goals and Challenges
Rehabilitative treatment is essential and the most effective model to reduce the cost of crime and recidivism in society. The model has many goals. Firstly, the goal is to understand the underlying causes of crime in individuals in order to enroll them in a treatment program. Secondly, rehabilitative treatment offers effective programs to support mental health treatment and behavior change programs to enable prisoners to overcome the underlying causes of criminal tendencies. Finally, the program supports the effective reintegration of offenders back into the community as productive citizens (Gallant, Sherry, & Nicholson, 2015). The three goals are related because they use the medical model of crime and assume that treatment is necessary to overcome the criminogenic factors. For example, instead of punishment, a person convicted for a drug-related crime should undergo effective treatment and rehabilitation to overcome the drug use problem and return to the community as a changed person. The person can also make a positive contribution to society, such as through employment.
Regardless of the efficacy of rehabilitative treatment of offenders in prisons, policy-makers should understand some challenges related to the model. Firstly, the concept of rehabilitative therapy is based on the assumption that specific factors cause criminal behavior. The model ignores the possibility that some people commit crimes out of free will. The rehabilitative model makes sense to the extent that professionals understand the criminogenic causes. Secondly, the model depends on the availability of qualified professionals to provide the treatment. Rehabilitation uses the medical model, which requires a diagnosis of the sickness and implementation of the relevant intervention. Therefore, medical experts, such as psychologists, should be trained to diagnose and treat offenders. Finally, the model might deny an offender the opportunity to access justice. The model appears to justify the commission of a crime and avoids punishment, which provides justice to the victim of crime (Oleszkiewicz, Kanonowicz, Sorokowski, & Sorokowska, 2018). Regardless of the challenges, the model remains useful because it addresses crime comprehensively and prevents the chances of re-offending.
The first example of the use of the rehabilitative model in the corrections is the use of sporting to support the physical and mental health of offenders. Sport and recreation in prisons have been successfully used in various parts of the world, such as in Australia (Meek, 2013). Prisoners participate in activities to relieve stress and promote their health in a healthy environment. Success has been noted in the model, such as to provide alternatives to substance abuse in the correctional facilities. The activities have proven effective in supporting the mental health of inmates. For example, it has been shown that prisoners who engage in sporting and recreation as part of their treatment improve their self-esteem and develop self-control, which is some of the risk factors for offending (Gallant, Sherry, & Nicholson, 2015). The programs also help to lower the levels of depression and feelings of hopelessness. As a result, offenders become more productive people during their imprisonment and when they finally finish their sentences and move back to the community. Instead of focusing on punishment, rehabilitation helps prisoners to overcome their mental health challenges, which could have led to the offending behavior in the first place.
Another case study of the successful use of rehabilitative treatment in prisons is in Scotland. The case study involves the use of rehabilitative art in prisons as a form of treatment for offenders. They use the activities as learning and rehabilitation resources to help offenders to overcome their criminal behaviors and become productive citizens. Art in Scotland has been assisting the offenders to recover in two ways. Firstly, they help some to learn the skills that they can use when they are out of prison. They are allowed to write and develop music or other artistic materials. Secondly, they provide a channel they can use to relieve the stress and other psychological effects of crime and imprisonment (Tett, Anderson, McNeill, Overy, & Sparks, 2012). Research on the Scottish case study reveals that the program is effective in promoting mental health among prisoners (Johnson, 2008). Besides, the inmates can develop knowledge and skills, which they can use once they complete their sentences. Through such initiatives, they can also overcome some of the factors that led to the offending behavior. Overall, they have an opportunity to reflect upon their lives and anticipate a productive life once they leave prison.
Three Specific Philosophical or Social Issues
The rehabilitation model of crime is necessary to address some social and philosophical issues in the criminal justice system. One of the problems entails the failure of this punitive model to consider the factors behind the commission of a crime by an offender. It is essential to understand that some criminals do not merely decide to commit crimes out of free will. Some do so because of underlying psychological problems, such as low self-esteem or drug addiction (Oleszkiewicz et al., 2018). Therefore, when they are arrested for the crime, punishing them without treatment will be counterproductive. Therefore, there is a need for effective rehabilitative treatment to address the root cause of crime.
Another issue that supports the use of the rehabilitative model is the current cost of incarcerating first offenders and re-offenders. Recidivism remains a severe challenge to the criminal justice system in the country. It is a contributor to the increasing prison population in the country. The number of prisoners is also increasing due to minor offenses, such as drug-related crimes. When such offenders are treated and rehabilitated, they have the opportunity to overcome mental health problems (Oleszkiewicz et a., 2018). They leave prison as productive citizens. On the contrary, if they fail to receive treatment, they will rejoin the community and most likely re-offend and get rearrested. The issue informs the need for successful rehabilitation of all criminals as a way of helping them to leave the crime and start a productive life.
Rehabilitation supports the medical model of crime. When an individual is unwell, they visit a doctor who tests them, diagnosis the sickness, and treats the patient to support a healing process. Prisoners require similar services to heal and recover from their criminal behavior. Failure to receive treatment means that the person lacks the opportunity to become better. For criminals, it means that even after punishment, they remain offenders. Once they return to their original settings, they will most likely be tempted to return to crime because they are still “sick.” On the contrary, with the rehabilitation model, professionals uncover and treat the disease (Oleszkiewicz et al., 2018). In this case, the model uses scientifically trained “doctors” to implement the interventions. In general, although punishment is deserved for the crime, treatment is as essential to prevent reoffending. Overall, the system should balance treatment with rehabilitation to make the process more effective in fighting crime in the United States and even in other countries around the world.
Rehabilitative treatment is a useful model in the criminal justice system in the United States because the approach has the potential to provide a means to deal with the causes of crime in society. Although some people commit crimes out of free will, the majority commits crimes because of underlying factors, such as mental health problems. The medical model of crime is effective in supporting behavior change programing in correction facilities. Prisons should provide programs and services to help offenders to overcome the challenges and become productive citizens. Case studies in other countries, such as Australia and Scotland, reveal the efficacy of the rehabilitative model of crime. They provide concerted efforts to support behavior change and develop skills in inmates that can help them once they are out of prison to become productive. They leave the system with self-efficacy and knowledge that improve their employability and the chance to earn an honest living without resulting in crime. Therefore, the United States justice system should embrace treatment and rehabilitation to help offenders overcome their criminal behaviors and live productively.
Gallant, D., Sherry, E., & Nicholson, M. (2015). Recreation or rehabilitation? Managing sport for development programs with prison populations. Sport Management Review, 18(1), 45-56.
Johnson, L. M. (2008). A Place for Art in Prison: Art as A Tool for Rehabilitation and Management. Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice, 5(2), 1-6
Meek, R. (2013). Sport in prison: exploring the role of physical activity in correctional settings. Routledge.
Oleszkiewicz, A., Kanonowicz, M., Sorokowski, P., & Sorokowska, A. (2018). Attitudes toward punishment and rehabilitation as perceived through playing a Prison Tycoon game. Games and Culture, 13(4), 406-420.
Tett, L., Anderson, K., McNeill, F., Overy, K., & Sparks, R. (2012). Learning, rehabilitation and the arts in prisons: A Scottish case study. Studies in the Education of Adults, 44(2), 171-185.