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What Is Rehabilitation?, Rehabilitation Across Time, Correctional Programs In The United States, Does Correctional Rehabilitation Work?

Each day in the United States, the correctional system supervises over six million of its residents. Approximately two million people are in prison or jail, while four million are on probation or parole. With so many people under its control, a central policy issue is what the correctional system hopes to accomplish with those it places behind bars or on community supervision. A simple response might be that the purpose of these correctional sanctions is to "punish" the criminally wayward. Since the inception of the American penitentiary in the 1820s, however, corrections has embraced as an important goal the transformation of law breakers into the law-abiding—that is, "rehabilitation" or "treatment." At times, the goal of reforming offenders has been dominant; at other times, its legitimacy and usefulness have been challenged and its influence on correctional policy diminished. But even today, after a period in the late 1900s of prolonged advocacy of "getting tough with criminals," rehabilitation remains an integral part of the correctional enterprise and continues to earn support among the public in the United States.

In this entry, we begin by exploring in more detail the concept of rehabilitation. We then use a historical perspective to examine the changing nature and support for rehabilitation as a correctional goal over time. Our attention next turns to the current treatment programs that are found within the correctional system. Perhaps the most important consideration is whether rehabilitation "works" to reduce the likelihood that offenders will "recidivate" or return to crime. Accordingly, we also review the latest research on the effectiveness of treatment interventions. We conclude this entry with comments on the future of rehabilitation as a correctional goal.



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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law