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Assessing Correctional Rehabilitation: Policy, Practice, and Prospects

NCJ Number
Date Published
67 pages
This chapter's primary purpose is to assess the empirical status of correctional rehabilitation, as it examines whether correctional interventions reduce offender recidivism.
The death knell of offender rehabilitation was apparently sounded by Robert Martinson's (1974b) influential "nothing works" essay, which reported that few treatment programs reduced recidivism. This review of evaluation studies gave legitimacy to the anti-treatment sentiments of the day. In the subsequent quarter century, a growing revisionist movement has questioned Martinson's portrayal of the empirical status of the effectiveness of treatment interventions. Based on literature reviews, these revisionist scholars have shown that many correctional treatment programs are effective in decreasing recidivism. More recently, these researchers have undertaken more sophisticated quantitative syntheses of an increasing body of evaluation studies through a technique called "meta-analysis." These meta-analyses show that across evaluation studies, the recidivism rate is, on average, 10 percentage points lower for the treatment group than for the control group; however, this research has also suggested that some correctional interventions have no effect on offender criminality (e.g., punishment-oriented programs), while others achieve substantial reductions in recidivism (approximately 25 percent). This variation in program success has led to a search for those "principles" that distinguish effective treatment interventions from ineffective ones. There is evidence that the rehabilitation programs that achieve the greatest reductions in recidivism use cognitive-behavioral treatments, target known predictors of crime for change, and intervene mainly with high-risk offenders. Correctional policy and practice should be based on empirical research that documents effective rehabilitation techniques matched with offender characteristics. 179 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000