Rehabilitative programs for inmates are not enough to lower recidivism rates, according to Anthony Grasso, political science doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Giving inmates an education or vocational training means nothing if there are no jobs or opportunities for economic mobility in the communities they return to,” Grasso wrote in a British online opinion blog.
When governmental institutions approach rehabilitation as a “cure” for crime, they “attribute recidivism to the failings of individuals and disregard how structural socioeconomic inequalities contribute to criminal behavior,” wrote Grasso.
Grasso warns of an increase in punishment for re-offenders known as “incorrigibles,” who were exposed to rehabilitation.
“(The) revival of rehabilitation will likely exacerbate the politics driving incarceration rates by prompting crackdowns on so-called ‘incorrigibles,’ ” opines Grasso.
The first use of rehabilitation for inmates dates back to the late 1800s, when Zebulon Brockway, warden of New York’s Elmira Reformatory, instituted a system to release inmates who “demonstrated adequate rehabilitative progress”.
Despite Brockway’s innovative approach, he believed some inmates were, “destined to lead lives of crime due to biological defects, which impeded their capacity for moral and rational thought,” wrote Grasso.
For inmates he saw as incorrigible, “Elmira… locked up many inmates for extended periods and physically and psychologically abused others,” wrote Grasso.
Scholars and politicians of that day approved Brockway’s approach, and implemented the first use of “indeterminate sentence,” which “became a two-pronged tool for reforming and releasing reformable offenders and identifying and containing incorrigibles,” according to Grasso.
“Now, as in the past, rehabilitative discourse masks the social and economic forces that contribute to crime,” Grasso added.
“Rehabilitation’s narrow focus on personal improvement obscures how failing schools, crippling joblessness, and government neglect contribute to crime in the low income communities most offenders hail from.”
Grasso proposes public investments be made in poor neighborhoods to spur growth and create jobs for returning offenders as a way to reduce crime and recidivism.
“Without reforming the fundamental social and economic inequalities that contribute to crime, rehabilitative discourse will once again generate a backlash against some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” Grasso concluded.