Do Prisons Rehabilitate?

L. S. Wynn
L. S. Wynn

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were over 1,440,655 prisoners under the jurisdiction of State or Federal correctional authorities at the end of 2002. This large number of people behind bars is a difficult figure to take lightly; what is actually happening with all of these people?

Prisons can often do more harm than good.
Prisons can often do more harm than good.

A system of imprisonment can have a variety of purposes, but many people disagree about which combination to focus on. Here are the basic possible hopes and goals of a prison system:

Recidivism refers to cases in which an individual commits another crime and returns to a correctional facility.
Recidivism refers to cases in which an individual commits another crime and returns to a correctional facility.

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The Federal Bureau of Prisons sets standards for Federal prisons throughout the United States.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons sets standards for Federal prisons throughout the United States.
  • Direct prevention: imprisonment directly prevents crimes because an incarcerated criminal cannot commit crimes against innocent victims.
  • Morally appropriate: punishing criminals is the right thing to do for its own sake.
  • Deterrent: the fear of imprisonment prevents crimes.
  • Rehabilitation: we all hope that the prison system will rehabilitate criminals so that upon release, they can become productive citizens.

For the purposes of this article, let us focus on the last goal listed: rehabilitation. Does a convict change for the better by the end of their prison sentence? Unfortunately the statistics are not favorable. According to a 1994 study by the Bureau of Justice, 64% of released prisoners were rearrested within 3 years.

A 1994 study showed a majority of those released from prison were rearrested within three years.
A 1994 study showed a majority of those released from prison were rearrested within three years.

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