Criminal Rehabilitation – Is it possible to restore the behavior of a criminal?

Article by: Scott Hall
            When we hear or read the word, rehabilitation, most of us may lean our thoughts to the context of drugs or alcohol abuse.  Some may think of overcoming an adversity by relearning how to walk again from a horrible accident or illness.  In the prison or jail systems, rehabilitation means the person has learned from their mistake, served their time and is ready for a functional part of society or rather that is what it is supposed to mean.  What happens when the person affected just “doesn’t get it” or the criminal who commits crime due to a particular season and not having any viable options for shelter as no one trusts that person any longer?  There are many reasons to doubt and to support the rehabilitation of criminals and this article will examine just a few of the many facets and opinions surrounding them.  Thinking cap time as we become enrolled in rehab.
            Recidivism (pronounced ree-sid uh-vism) is by definition the chronic tendency toward repetition of criminal or anti-social behavior patterns (dictionaryreference.com).  An example of this type of behavior could be:  Homeless person whom knows shelter is first come, first serve and knows that during the colder months of the year, usually is rejected due to overcrowding or over populated shelters.  This person may feel options are bleak at best and commits petty crime in order to gain shelter from cold, specifically knows what crimes may carry specific sentences so they can stay for extended periods.  This basic example is a good start in the thought processes of recidivism and what may be going on inside the criminal mind.  In relation to our topic of discussion, if the jails were “rehabilitating”, those with drinking problems or homeless problems would be directed and placed into environments to assist them back into a welcoming society and fairies would wave a wand and we all would dance and sing, meaning, not likely this will happen, but rehabilitation isn’t out of reach in this or any situation with a careful placement of critical thought.
            The costs of crime and punishment are expensive, items such as meals for the inmates, the electricity to lock down and light up the area, the costs of manpower to run them and all housing a populous that does not really generate a “self sustaining” economy means the taxpayers through a financier like a local or state or federal government pay for those costs.  The last thing any citizen wants is misappropriated funds with their hard earned dollars.  Some persons point out that the costs of rehabilitation are far less than total incarceration and suggest that programs designed to restore and assist the individual may be the better path (depressionguide.com article on criminal rehabilitation).  Though the page is more support for a program called Criminon, the thought seems to be that education and opportunity work well as a combatant to recidivism.  A point of interest that deserves to be explored in the potential for finding out can criminals be rehabilitated. 
            The homeless person seeking shelter is an easy example to visualize, but what about the person who robs a store owner at gunpoint and serves say 9 years behind bars.  Can this person be rehabilitated into a productive society?  The answer again seems to be the much needed presence of mind to want to change while incarcerated, this according to an article posted online (ezinearticles.com).  The central theme to the two aforementioned web links seems to be the need for educational programs that teach those persons a life skill or field of interest where they might be able to change their lives and blend into a functioning life.  Education is a good key to enjoying a rich fulfilling life and it has many benefits, however, the other side of that problem exists, where the potential employers for someone of those skills may hold their background against them and not consider them a viable applicant. 
            According to an online article (drc.ohio.gov), a staggering statistic of the average reading and comprehension level of its inmate population was that of a middle 7th grade reader.  80% of their inmate population is high school drop outs and 30% male along with 20% female read at 6th grade or below.  There is little doubt that due to these high statistics that Ohio’s Rehabilitation program, a part of their justice program, includes education, skills or trade training as well as various forms of rehabilitation while building confidence in the inmate population a very solid approach that also coincides with our discoveries of what rehabilitating someone may be.  Ohio is not alone in their insight, as North Dakota also boasts a solid rehabilitation program (nd.gov).  North Dakota’s mission is simply reduce crime, maintain a public trust and provide opportunity for change whenever possible, a very impressive mission to uphold and maintain.
            To rehabilitate, by definition (dictionaryreference.com) simply means to restore to good health or the ability to work or the like. Inmate populations are varied depending on the region or type of prison / jail sentence applied and as one can imagine, not all inmates want to be educated or feel the need to restore some part of their lives as they may see their terms as temporary.  Here is another core area that as these programs develop will be a focal point, gaining the interest of the person.  In one of our above examples, the person that committed the robbery may have done this due to gang influence and not desperation or desire, which could mean once they are released into society upon rejoining the ranks of their gang, may cause them to offend again.  This is only a shortened view of the many angles that could be and while no one answer will apply, a good start is rebuilding the self esteem of those whom are not in gangs or may want out of them to show them a better path.
            While it is somewhat obvious that overcoming the odds relies heavily on the inmate or person’s self motivation and desire for change, it also requires that those who are implementing or studying effective means of rehabilitation do so without corruption or desire to falsify, such as was mentioned in the online article about California’s COMPAS program (californiawatch.org).  According to the article, California is only one of 19 states that are attempting to assess their inmates so that proper application of restorative means can take place.    The problem stems from the root of most evils, money versus those who are accepted and need those treatments for drug abuse, those whom need their GED and those who are 
what some would call a “hot mess”.  Earlier in our article, we mentioned low self esteem.  Self esteem is vital to all persons as it gives us a sense of belonging as well as accomplishment, low self esteem can produce inability to function in normal environments and propel feelings of desperation in critical environments.  This may be another core environment in the ability to truly rehabilitate someone, the difficulty lies within the environment the inmate resides in, an environment that may cause one to choose sides or thoughts and stances just to sleep without being attacked or harmed. 
            Many will say prison is supposed to be for punishment not rehabilitation and in most cases where more serious crimes occur most would agree that punishment is the only option.  Areas such as premeditated murder or terroristic plots that result in large losses no doubt fit well within this category.  Other areas that are open to debate as to whether or not an actual problem that needs treatment exists, such as pedophilia, will stretch the mind in rationalizing the thought of a rehabilitation program in that few may realize pedophilia is a mental disorder and although has criminal ties, it is not a criminal act unless the person acts upon the urges.  In an online article (iswayne.edu), Doctor Stuart Henry looks at the area of punishment and what it is supposed to represent.  We are all familiar with the term punishment as while we were growing up, we realized there were consequences to our behaviors, which means we got punished.  Those consequences are not really that different for persons scheduled for incarceration in that they lose privileges and freedoms in an attempt to deter the behavior.
            According to his article, effectiveness and apprehension of consequence may play vital roles in conjunction with crime.  The doctor concluded based on research that more policing and targeted crime control are more effective when done with low worry of consequence and high probability of apprehension, in short, if you knew your actions would earn apprehension and definite punishment, the less likely the crime or follow through of the crime.  Many case studies have been done on the subject of what community policing might or might not pose to the public or whether or not it is effective and this article shows support on control of less severe crimes and shows no evidence of harsher crimes where this theory works.  Most would agree easily that going to prison is not someplace anyone wants to go, but some have to go and while there, should be punished for their crime by taking away years of ability to flow in society’s streams.
            This does not stop that person from going to a prison library and utilizing the resources to further their education, so severity of punishment or length of term is not a valid reason for not trying to become a better person.  Simply stated it is the individual’s choice and certainly when the individual chooses to better themselves, the outcome is almost always positive.  A literal reiteration of the key component to whether or not a criminal mind can be rehabilitated, the person themselves.  This example may be ok, provided that an underlying mental illness is not the cause for the criminal or malicious behavior at which point rather than going to a jail a better cause of action would be therapy within an institution that can provide both, but the idea and horrors of asylums isn’t very popular.
            Prisons are supposed to be harsh environments, but not because of the population which makes the environment a melting pot of anger and “just causes”, it is because the prisoner is supposed to be 1) kept in a secure place so as not to cause further harm to society 2) have their basic rights and freedoms be disposed and regulated by the prison system that houses them, and 3) serve a length of time somewhat equivalent to the severity of the crime committed, none of which include : hoping you fit in to a group of people that won’t get you attacked because of association, being of different color or ethnic background, not being a sexual offender, not in control of the flow of contraband or even not cooperating with the flow of it and a host of other horror stories and realities.  With environments such as these, those whom attempt to be rehabilitated may not accomplish their goals easily or at all, so another part of our problem is better communication and opportunity. Others such as in the online article (economist.com) see things such as too many are in jail simply because we are over punishing our society with jail time for lesser crimes.  I can already hear the “Yeah, when did anyone smoking marijuana get anyone killed?”  The answer, every day, which is why there is a drug war going on and the death part, well just ask the Mexican drug cartels about what happens when you cross them over some hard core smoke, you’re likely to get smoked.
            The overview thus far has focused on what the prison system sees as rehabilitation, a few states that list programs that aid in reducing recidivism, parameters that support what is needed (education) to help in being rehabilitated, and the environment that may inhibit a inmates ability to re-become a successful part of society as well as support that ultimately it is up to the individual to be rehabilitated.  In our search to the answer other than utilizing the factual or statistical, research involved in this quest came from a sampling of a chat room (which will not be revealed as a matter of privacy to those sampled) in Yahoo! The question posed to those whom were not automated bots, “Which is better, incarceration of the criminal or rehabilitation of the criminal?” The answers came with much debate, some said, “Yes lock them all up, punishment is best to achieve the desired goal of rehabilitation.” Others said “The only way this would work is if the convict is truly convicted in heart” and one person in particular whom works at a prison said “No way rehabilitation works, the prisoners won’t allow it and some even get into fights because others dislike them getting their basic education” (yahoo.com/chat), this suggesting that a touch of jealousy or envy amongst peers, essentially their environment, causes a reluctance to pursue some of those avenues; as expected a varied debate based on region of person.  Those regions being Louisiana, Texas, California, North Dakota, New York, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama and Virginia as our samplings from real world feedback platforms and to be honest there was so many great conversations, I wish I could include them all here in this article, but we all need a time to absorb and can pursue those debates and ideas on our own.
            In conclusion, through a different set of eyes we can see where recidivism rates are influenced by environment, opportunity, circumstance and individual thought process.  Statistics show that most inmates have reading and comprehension levels that are less than substantial.  A key to helping in reducing the recidivism and promoting the rehabilitation is providing solid educational and skill training in a practical manner.  In order for this rehabilitation to work effectively, the individual must want to change for the better and will have to work just as hard as most citizens do outside of prison walls to accomplish those goals.  Along with the individuals desire to change, parameters of violence and peer pressures within the confines must be overviewed and overhauled as prison is accepted as a harsh environment.  19 States have programs in place to rehabilitate those groups whom desire change all have supporting evidence that the intervention and interaction helps to deter repeat appearances of inmates, although a few still point out flaws caused by the system and argue studies don’t help or work, the fact still remains, those whom want it, achieve it and those whom don’t well, they just don’t. 
Reference Material and Listings of Crime Statistics in USA:

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