Why is helping people being soft on crime?
January 28, 2010 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Crime and Punishment...or Counseling? Based on this, I would like to know about research,books, etc on that. Why are so many people ready to throw someone in jail, repeatedly, rather than get them counseling to help that person get into a better life?

I am specifically interested in studies, books, documentaries, on WHY the average citizen would think it was a waste of resources to rehabiliate people.

I understand that there are poorly managed programs that have left people skeptical and things like that.

I feel like I hear a lot about how much prison costs yet at the same time, there are so many calls to be "hard on crime". We've all heard ridiculous stories about the 3 Strikes laws in California and other places.

I want help understanding that mind-frame. I'm not saying I don't feel like some people should be locked up away from society forever. I just want to understand the people who think that about the majority of law-breakers, regardless of the offense.

I'm definitely not sure of the right words to describe what I'm looking to understand, so I might need help pinpointing that. This is more than liberal/conservative, democrat/republican issue. I want to understand the psychology behind why people think this way, if possible.
posted by sio42 to Human Relations (30 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The idea that the criminal justice system has something to do with punishment goes back forever. It's called retributive justice, and it's enshrined in the Bible and espoused by Kant. Under this theory, whether or not the criminal has a "better life" is completely irrelevant, as doing justice consists of punishing wrongdoers in a way that is proportionate to the crimes they have committed. End of story.

This is what the majority of the human race has believed for the majority of history. The interesting psychological question should thus not why people believe that but why anyone doesn't.
posted by valkyryn at 10:55 AM on January 28, 2010

Well I guess many people simply believe in a retributive theory of justice. Wherever you stand on rehabilitation, it's hard to see how society could function without some element of deterrence deriving from punishment for punishment's sake in the justice system.

You ask for reading. For a razor sharp satire of rehabilitative theories of punishment, you could do worse than read Antony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange.
posted by genesta at 10:57 AM on January 28, 2010

I know you asked for studies, books, etc . . . but I don't have any. I do have my 2 cents, though on why people think that rehabilitation might be a waste (this is not necessarily my personal philosophy, but rather why I think people think that).

Change comes from within. You can't force any one to change. Therefore, many of these rehabilitation programs, while probably a wonderful resource, can't force anyone to change.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:58 AM on January 28, 2010

valkyryn - ah, retributive justice. thank you.
i think you are correct - under that idea, it would be an abberation to believe otherwise. interesting.

i have read Clockwork Orange, but i am looking for something more academic.
posted by sio42 at 11:11 AM on January 28, 2010

Another 2center here... I think it's also a thing of safety. Sure, you can give someone counseling, but how will you know if it really worked? Seems risky to trust the person not to commit the same crime(s) again.
posted by biochemist at 11:13 AM on January 28, 2010

I understand that there are poorly managed programs that have left people skeptical and things like that.

Actually, there are a lot of extremely well managed evidence based programs that a lot of people just don't know about yet because in the grand scheme of American judicial history problem solving courts are still very new.

The Treatment Research Institute website's section on Law and Ethics has study citations galore. The drug court research guru is a dude named Doug Marlowe who was featured in HBO's Addiction series, which you might want to check out.

I feel like I hear a lot about how much prison costs yet at the same time, there are so many calls to be "hard on crime".

There are hardline law enforcement types who truly feel that the answer is to continue attempting to incarcerate our way out of crime problems. They feel the best way to deal with the mounting cost is not through cost control methods, but to privatize the prison system and build more jails so that stake holders can make a profits and there will be growth in the law enforcement and corrections industry. They don't care about outcomes, their ideology trumps every piece of data and evidence you could put under their noses.

However, that's a small minority, and honestly, in most states the power right now is not with them right now. Most people at this point understand that our current model is totally unsustainable. We can't keep incarcerating people in greater numbers. We don't have the money, nor the space, either on the prison side or the court side. The Inquirer's recent special report on the criminal justice system in Philly highlights how things completely fall apart when the system is way over capacity and nobody has any ideas for how to change it. I wrote a response to the Inquirer article based on my experience working in the system.

It's important to realize that even social workers don't think everyone deserves treatment. There are people who need to be incarcerated. Public safety is a really serious issue that impacts cities in ways that cannot be ignored. However, what the criminal justice researchers like Marlowe are trying to do is figure out who fits where. There's a huge segment of the criminal justice population that can be diverted and will benefit from not having contact with more serious criminals. If done effectively on a grand scale, it could scale down the correctional system to the point where it is serving the purpose it was intended to, which is to remove violent offenders from society in order to increase public safety.
posted by The Straightener at 11:32 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's worth pointing out that often times with a particular class of repeat offenders, there are underlying mental health or behavioral issues that affect things.

To use someone I know as an example, after a run in with the law, she got some help and counseling and other therapies from a variety of non-profits and government agencies. They helped her get job training and find a job, avoid the drugs and alcohol and people that helped her get into trouble to begin with, and made great strides in getting her life in order.

Five years after she moved out of the managed facility, she was right back to where she started. Without the more or less constant oversight and guidance, she fell back into the same routines and behaviors and outcomes. Personally, I don't think she is or will ever be capable of living entirely independently, but there is no provision within the law to make her.

The point I'm trying to make is that the people who need rehabilitation the most often need very costly and intensive interventions that won't have clear outcomes. These can be hard to enforce when you consider that people are (generally) free to not participate or seek help if they chose. Such programs are hard to justify in a soundbite, and the many failures that will necessarily occur will be used to justify defending the program as soon as times get hard.

Which is to say, it's easier and (arguably) cheaper to just put someone in jail and hope they figure it out than it is to actually take responsibility for teaching them.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:36 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

The human desire for revenge is very, very strong sometimes. If someone hurts us, we wanna hurt them back -- we usually don't want to sit them down and talk it out.

Same too with "society at large" and "criminals."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on January 28, 2010

This NY Times article may be useful to you. I thought of it when I read your question, so I googled "Finnish prison system." That led to a few blog posts on Finnish prisons (some referencing the article) as well as this journal article that might get at some of the issues you're interested in.

Americans who write about these Scandinavian prisons would likely address the issues you're interested in. You might try to tailor a google scholar search to look for that type of article.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:48 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think in some ways it may be just how people's minds are wired -- we to focus on specific anecdotal instances rather than statistics. Even if one could provide evidence of a rehabilitation program that works in the majority of cases, many people would place more weight on one instance of it not working.
posted by zombiedance at 12:09 PM on January 28, 2010

Also, I guess I should point out I meant non-violent offenders specifically.

People like Jeffrey Dalhmer and the Son of Sam are not what I'm talking about.

zombiedance - if you can point me to anything academic/research-y about that, i'd love to learn about. i know it's probably some psychology thing that makes that happen, but i'd like to know what it is and why it works that way.
posted by sio42 at 12:17 PM on January 28, 2010

If you want to hear the debate from the Enlightenment era, then read "On Crimes and Punishments" by Beccaria. It was influential in moving the pendulum away from purely retributive systems of law, which as the first commenter noted, have been the norm for most of history. Montesquieu's "The Spirit of Laws" was also influential, though iirc, he disagreed with Beccaria on some points -- I want to say that Montesquieu was harsher about punishments but it's been years since I read it so I might have that backwards. Modern legal systems tend to be a mishmash of retributive and rehabilitative systems because the retributive mindset is still so strong -- be it because of religion, or instinct, or something else, is not easy to untangle.

Anyway, both of those are pretty easy reads and not terribly long. They address many of their prevailing arguments against them at the time, usually summarizing them and the various responses their opponents might make, so you should find it helpful in understanding the sorts of things people believed and which persist today.
posted by Nattie at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2010

Essential reading on the cultural history of imprisonment and punishment is Michel Foucault, starting with Discipline and Punish. The modern prison, in many ways, is an invention of the industrial revolution, and bears all the hallmarks of facilities and processes that you would expect. Prison usage typically goes through cycles of crackdown and reform, with the latter often tinged with one or the other variety of paternalism or classism.

As The Straightener notes, though, frequently those most aware of the limitations of incarceration are those closest to the problem.

I would caution against believing that retributive justice, expressed as lengthy incarceration, has a grand history. In many ways the modern United States is imprisoning more people for longer than any society in history.
posted by dhartung at 2:09 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

dhartung - it's stuff like your last line there that make me want to learn about WHY that is happening, how we could be so "advanced" yet insist on putting nonviolent offendors in what is essentially debtor's prison.

i guess i'm trying to walk the fine line of getting immersed in prison reform and trying to find out why we need it (reform) in the first place. but more from a psychological/sociological/x-logical perspective than a policy one. why would a culture allow this to happen? what makes the people tick who allow this to happen?
posted by sio42 at 2:22 PM on January 28, 2010

what makes the people tick who allow this to happen?

It might be interesting to read up on "authoritarianism" and the related "right-wing authoritarianism". You can find a giant PDF of the book The Authoritarians here.
posted by mhum at 3:15 PM on January 28, 2010

I want to understand the psychology behind why people think this way
I think you want to read Moral Politics by George Lakoff. It's much more rigorous and a bit less partisan than his later book, Don't Think of an Elephant!, that also addresses the fundamentally different moral frameworks that underlie our politics.

US-centric; partitions the field into liberal vs. conservative; author's bias as a liberal is apparent.
posted by tantivy at 3:37 PM on January 28, 2010

Ok, there's a massive history here. Conservatives began to believe at some point that the 60's are the root of all evil. In the 60's, everything became more liberal and sentences were reduced, counseling was in (and some really wacky stupid shit got promoted as counseling and healthy therapy), hippies flew their freak flags. Lots of nice, decent kids grew their hair long, smoked pot and started hanging out with black people and believing that blacks and women should have equal rights to everyone else. They also opposed the Viet Nam war.

Then, there was a massive increase in crime and some well intentioned but naive researchers started claiming based on bogus research that rehabilitation never worked. The conservatives took hold of the government, and decided that cracking down on crime with longer sentences, no coddling of criminals like rehab or wussy "social programs" was a big electoral winner-- one that conveniently had a nice side effect of locking up lots of black people and providing lots of jobs for white people. Cutting back welfare for the "welfare queens" who were also coddled by useless social programs was also a big hit.

Anyway, Democrats then became terrified of seeming soft on crime so there was a huge orgy of punitive sentencing associated with Reagan's War on Drugs and huge cutbacks in any kind of social welfare programs that might help "those scummy criminals."

So, we now have a consensus across criminology that mandatory minimums fail, that rehab can work when done right, that mental health treatment helps-- and a huge political consensus that anything that "coddles criminals" is fuzzy headed hippy talk.

Until the boomers die out, we're going to have little policy sense on crime, I'm afraid.
posted by Maias at 4:36 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maias, yes, there's history here, but it goes back way farther than that. Imprisonment only became a punishment in and of itself in nineteenth-century Britain; up till that point, jails were for holding people until trial, execution, or exile. They weren't thought of as a punishment in and of themselves. Criminal justice systems have been getting progressively more lenient for the better part of a thousand years, and this trend has nothing to do with the petty squabbles you've identified.

In medieval times, trials were conducted by ordeal, so even if you were innocent you usually ended up maimed. For a while it really was the best thing going. When you think God really is going to make the truth known through obscure means and you've got no legal system providing a better option, well, yeah. Anyways, This gradually came to be viewed as somewhat less than satisfactory, for obvious reasons. But it has taken centuries for the jury system to develop, and it's still far from perfect.

As far as outright punishment goes, all punishments were corporal--and most capital--until the late medieval/early Renaissance period. The percentage of punishments which resulted in execution didn't start to drop until about 1500. I'd attribute this to two main factors. First, problems with the trial system led to crises of confidence in verdicts. If you aren't that sure that the verdict is right, maybe you don't want to kill the guy after all. Second, people wanted a more granular approach to crimes, i.e. maybe not every crime merits death. But again, for quite a while the substitute for death was branding, flogging, losing a finger/eye, or some other equally unpleasant alternative.

In addition, as society has gotten progressively more stable, i.e. there aren't barbarians with big nasty axes about to come over the hill anymore--society has become able to afford less draconian solutions to crime. I think that even today you'll find a direct connection between the wealth of societies and their treatment of criminals. The richer a society is, the more it moves away from straight retribution.

So this really has very little to do with conservative reactions to 1960s excesses. The "hard on crime" line has been part of successful political campaigns--democratic or otherwise--as long as there have been such. The ruler's first obligation has pretty much always been to maintain and preserve civil order. Ancient kings had to be hard on crime no less than congresscritters do now.
posted by valkyryn at 5:40 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

My goodness, a question about criminology (more or less)! I'm so happy! And this may not be what you're looking for, but everyone I know knows better than to ask these questions, so I never get to answer them anymore:

The current mode of thinking about punishment as a primary goal of the criminal justice system is not a given. Certainly, harsh punishment for crime has been a part of human history. But in the U.S. in particular, many criminal justice agencies were originally established with rehabilitation in mind. Like prisons, for instance--intended to be an extended period of time during which inmates read the Bible and silently reflected on their sins (for a few months-years. Insanity was a common outcome). As with many criminal justice interventions, it didn't actually work the way it was supposed to. If you look at more recent history, however, there is a story to be told about why people may think the way they do about crime and punishment.

Some background:

There are several different explanations for the increase of punitiveness in the criminal justice system in the Western world in general, and these reasons are not entirely political. Research in the late 1970s about both policing and penology really ended many of the traditional rehabilitative programs in prison. Simply put, evaluations showed that they didn't work. If you want to look up the most widely known study, it's Martinson (1974).

The skepticism about the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs and about the criminal justice system in general led to an increased emphasis on incapacitation and deterrence as goals in the criminal justice system. If nothing works to reform offenders, the thought was, you may as well lock them up as long as possible to keep them from hurting other people. To draw the political consequences of this Martinson and others into the debate, since the best evidence was that rehabilitation doesn't work, the concept of rehabilitation as a goal of policy became less sustainable for politicians.

At the same time, crime in the United States was on an unprecedented upsurge (esp. from the 1980s-1990s). This surge in crime made political and scholarly discourse far more concerned with crime control than social goals. There's a book by David Garland called The Culture of Control which discusses how a philosophy oriented towards social control and sympathy for victims of crime has resulted in a far more punitive attitude towards criminals than was even dreamt of 30-40 years ago...this is his explanation for what he sees as the contemporary obsession with punishment. By the early 1990s, police and corrections agencies had embrace measures like zero tolerance policing and similar measures both as a way of reassuring the public that something was being done about crime and as a way of gaining access to additional resources. And crime has been falling since 1993, so it's working, right? (Doesn't correlation = causation?)

Another argument is the theory that the crime issue has become a euphemism for the race issue. I don't know that I necessarily buy the argument, but it goes like this: It is a fact that sentencing practices have become more punitive, especially for drug offenses. It is also a fact that this increase in incarceration (time served and commitments to prison) has disproportionately impacted minority groups, especially African-Americans (Blumstein and Beck, 1999). So on some level, a major part of the motivation for punitive drug policies may come from racial/ ethnic biases (B&B don't say this, BTW, and neither do other scholars--purely political argument).

If it helps, however, there are some indications that the pendulum is on the backswing. On the most basic level, the explosion of the prison population and current financial crisis are incompatible with one another--something has to give, and in the past it's been the prison population. So although this has absolutely nothing to do with wanting to treat anyone, it may still result in a less punitive philosophy, long term, regarding offenders.

On the other hand, the thing about crime control theories (depending on what you consider a control theory) is that they have a modicum of empirical support. Here's what doesn't seem to work: incarceration as incapacitation, general legal deterrence. Why do these things persist? Because they're relatively easy to implement (on the policy-maker side) and everyone likes to be tough on crime.

Here's what may work: police crackdowns specifically tailored to a specific situational crime problem (you can't copy and paste a drug crackdown from on place to another and expect it to produce the same outcome), situational crime prevention (Clarke 1995, I think, and a lot of environmental criminologists), and place-based policing (just Google Weisburd crime and place). Why is it worth bringing research into this discussion? Because 1) I'm an aspiring researcher, so of course I want to; and 2) actually reducing crime is a goal that appeals to most people, even those who are at opposite ends of the punishment debate. It can (perhaps, if it tries really hard) serve as an intelligent moderator in this debate.

Also, rehabilitation really does exist, and there are newer models for rehabilitation (drug courts, cognitive-behavioral therapy) that show promise. It's really too early to tell if the public temper is such that an effective treatment program would be accepted at the expense of a punitive mindset, although the professors in my department are spinning all supervision, including rehabilitation, as being inherently punitive, and not without reason--some offenders elect to serve a prison sentence rather than go through some of the more intensive forms of community supervision and treatment.

So is our modern desire for a punitive criminal justice system an artifact of a chain of events in this country's recent history, or will it extend beyond the contemporary drop in crime, return of interest in rehabilitation, and budget crisis? That's not something that I've heard a good answer for, but perhaps we'll know in a decade.

I'm hoping that this is a mostly coherent answer--it's definitely past my bed time. What a great question!
posted by _cave at 9:11 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

mais - thanks - that a was a lot of historical stuff i tend to forget about, having not been alive then (not saying that you were).

those topics might be something for me to look into with regard to understanding the psychosoical aspect.
posted by sio42 at 5:41 AM on January 29, 2010

valkyryn - that's very interesting...it's like we are still condeming the same number of people, but instead of chopping their heads off, we stick in them prison.
posted by sio42 at 5:42 AM on January 29, 2010

_cave - WOW! that was awesome. i think you really hit the nail on the head with the idea that increasing concern for victims has led to a harsher stance on crime. (i for one am ecstatic when i can start talking about stream erosion buffers and public transportation as most of my friends know better than to get me started on either of those topcis!)

i know i marked a lot of best answers in this thread and they are all very good, each answering a different aspect of what i now see is several questions. i feel like i have a good list of things to check out from philosophical and historical angles as well as the psych/social aspect.

it's funny how the thread seemed to move forward through time a bit, from kant on up to present (with a bit of medieval thrown in!).

thank you everyone for your information and insights....i will be in the library this weekend!
posted by sio42 at 5:53 AM on January 29, 2010

yeah, obviously, there's a much longer history than that-- but that stuff is hugely relevant to current U.S. policy, more so than the Quakers and their misguided notion that solitary confinement is healing (it's actually one of the most damaging things you can do to a person).

The evaluations that showed that rehabilitation didn't work in the 1970's were problematic, however. I forget exactly what the issue was-- and there's certainly a lot of bad addiction treatment that actually does make things worse-- but I don't believe any research ever showed, for example, that improving literacy doesn't work. I don't think any research ever showed that mandatory minimums for nonviolent crime are effective-- and I know for sure no research could possibly find that they are cost effective.

I don't think any research has ever shown prison to be *more* effective than even crappy drug rehab-- only that crappy rehab isn't *more effective* than prison, null result. Crappy rehab, however, when done outside of prison is massively cheaper for the same amount of recidivism-- and decent treatment is massively cheaper (particularly methadone) for much less recidivism.

The blanket claim that all rehabilitation doesn't work was barely justified at the time and certainly isn't justified now. As I recall, the authors of the big review that supposedly found this were gutted by how their research was used to set policy back by decades.

Thankfully, the lousy economy will probably force at least some sentencing reform-- and there has been over the last few decades a real consensus that at least as far as drugs, policy is insanely misguided. The politics of that are complicated and Obama may not be as good as liberals hope because he may feel he can't do the right thing for political reasons-- ie, it would look "soft on crime."
posted by Maias at 5:57 AM on January 29, 2010


It depends what you think "more effective" is (re: prison vs. rehabilitation). Certainly, most researchers in penology don't support extended prison sentences because of many of the reasons that you discuss; it's massively expensive and hugely increases the odds of recidivism. What it does do (say proponents of imprisonment) is protect society and the victims of crime from dangerous offenders during the term of incarceration. Crappy rehab does not do this. And the full cost of our sentencing policies did not become apparent until well after they were implemented, although they were pretty predictable beforehand.

But the claim that rehabilitation in general or a rehabilitation program in particular works is something that not should be taken for granted. Another big name to point to in this discussion is McCord (2003), who wrote about the potentially harmful outcomes of social programs directed towards prisoners and youth. There are many, many, many examples of well-intentioned programs which resulted in more of the treatment group (the guys who got the program) recidivating than control group. Heck, the Quakers started off with the notion that they were going to do some good for people.

For instance, it isn't clear whether the outcomes of methadone treatment are any better than other forms of drug therapy, or what sort of supervision works best for individuals undergoing drug treatment. There was a systematic review done by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2009 that suggested that it did no better in reducing mortality (as in people dropping out of treatment) or criminal behavior than traditional drug treatment. Although not necessarily important to a discuss of what works in rehabilitation, philosophically, some people have difficulty with the idea of giving drug users more drugs. I'm a fan of the idea that rehabilitation can work for certain people in certain settings, and especially for drug offenders, but an incautious plunge into sorta-shady rehabilitation programs invites another Martinson to come around and put the brakes on the whole concept of rehabilitation.
posted by _cave at 6:53 AM on January 29, 2010

Sorry, I'm having fun with this discussion, I'm honestly not trying to be a pain.
posted by _cave at 6:53 AM on January 29, 2010

i'd love to make a meta post out of this...maybe one of you could...you both seem pretty engaged about the topic.

this is interesting stuff.
posted by sio42 at 8:17 AM on January 29, 2010

_Cave, there's actually lots of evidence that methadone cuts crime-- whereas there's very little such evidence for drug-free treatment. This is why the IOM said that methadone is the most effective known treatment for opioid addiction.

And I'm very familiar with Dishion and McCord-- which is why I hastened to distinguish between crappy drug treatment that can increase recidivism (the confrontational, humiliating, group minor offenders in with serious offenders kind) from other types.

The Cochrane review actually concluded this:

Eleven studies met the criteria for inclusion in this review, all were randomised clinical trials, two were double-blind. There were a total number of 1969 participants. The sequence generation was inadequate in one study, adequate in five studies and unclear in the remaining studies. The allocation of concealment was adequate in three studies and unclear in the remaining studies. Methadone appeared statistically significantly more effective than non-pharmacological approaches in retaining patients in treatment and in the suppression of heroin use as measured by self report and urine/hair analysis (6 RCTs, RR = 0.66 95% CI 0.56-0.78), but not statistically different in criminal activity (3 RCTs, RR=0.39; 95%CI: 0.12-1.25) or mortality (4 RCTs, RR=0.48; 95%CI: 0.10-2.39).
Authors' conclusions

Methadone is an effective maintenance therapy intervention for the treatment of heroin dependence as it retains patients in treatment and decreases heroin use better than treatments that do not utilise opioid replacement therapy. It does not show a statistically significant superior effect on criminal activity or mortality.

In other words, methadone keeps more people in treatment and this is why it is better at reducing mortality and criminality. If you control for that, it's not better-- but since in the real world, we don't, that's not what matters.
posted by Maias at 5:30 PM on January 29, 2010

My local library does not have Culture of Control by David Garland nor any of the other books recommended, like Lakoff or Foucault (i know, right? no Foucault???)

I was discussing this with a friend yesterday who said that a lot of the reasons are economic: people don't want to pay for treatment. But I don't understand how if they are shown there are GOOD programs that work (not the 30 day rehabs that end up with recidivisism) why they would still think it made economic sense to spend money on possibly a lifetime of incaceration rather than an upfront investment in a person.

Sure, not everyone can be rehabbed, but if, say, 70% of people could, that would be a good return, right?

I guess that is an angle to explore this from as well.
posted by sio42 at 6:54 AM on February 1, 2010

A big problem in current criminology is that politically, we're still a very retributionary system, but legally, actual retribution is really hard to do because of the courts' interpretation of constitutional law.

In the old days, the courts just outright punished people. Flogging, branding, and plenty of hangings and decapitations. Exile was also popular. There are two benefits here. First, the criminal is actually punished in a way that matters. Incarceration isn't pleasant, but it represents a positive step up for some of the people we're talking about, making it far from uncomplicated as a punishment at best. Second, it's cheap. A cat-'o-nine tails will cost you surprisingly little, and a rope and a tree branch is even cheaper. Administering the punishment is practically free.

But as punishment after punishment was ruled to be "cruel and unusual," the courts have increasingly been forced to use incarceration as a method of punishment. Which has the dual downsides of 1) not being terribly effective while 2) being terribly expensive. So yes, things like methodone treatment, counseling, etc. are a lot cheaper than incarceration, rehabilitation is still really not the point politically speaking. Yes, many states have high-minded statements of principles about how the criminal justice system is focused on rehabilitation, but when it comes right down to it, the American public, like civilian populations throughout history, isn't really interested in that. The argument that we should spend anything on lawbreakers has always been a pretty tough sell. So while activists have made it impossible to outright punish people, there's never been and likely never will be the political will necessary to create something like an actual rehabilitation system.

The ironic thing is that even by "cruel and unusual" standards, thirty lashes, which takes all of twenty minutes and costs next to nothing--even if we throw in medical treatment--is arguably far more humane than destroying the rest of someone's life by putting them behind bars for years. I mean, yeah, flogging sucks, but you get better. Incarceration lasts far, far longer than the pain of a whipping and has far more permanent consequences.
posted by valkyryn at 11:47 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sure, not everyone can be rehabbed, but if, say, 70% of people could, that would be a good return, right?

Success rates like this are actually very rare... And, as illustrated by the ongoing methadone debate, a treatment can be effective in one sense of the word (as a type of drug intervention that keeps people in therapy), and not in another (as a type of drug intervention that actually reduces crime). So defining 'effective' in a way that makes everyone happy--from the general public to the Martinsons of the world--and finding a program that satisfies that definition is a challenge.

Try Google scholar, as I think someone suggested above--many articles are available online, especially on government agency websites. And although it sucks, shelling money out for books is another option. Go for earlier editions--they can be pretty inexpensive ($1-5 range) and still quite good. For some reason, these books are in not-so-high demand.
posted by _cave at 5:02 PM on February 1, 2010

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