Punishment vs. Rehabilitation, Research Paper Example

In the 1970-s, several attacks were made against “too soft” community sanctions. According to Alarid et al. (2007, p. 17.), sanctions were first debated when statistical data showed that there were not effective in preventing offenders to continue their criminal activities while they are placed under supervision. As a result, in the United States, parole was removed and in Canada the Canadian Sentencing Commission recommended parole’s abolition from the criminal justice system. Still, the real debate started with the article published by Martison: (1974) “What Works”.

“Nothing Works” Debate

The detailed survey concluded by Martinson (1974) on rehabilitation programs showed that the intervention did not have any positive effect on recidivism. The article simply undermined previous beliefs of rehabilitation programs’ supporters’ beliefs that they were effective ways of reducing crime and re-offending rates. While the research was concluded using data obtained from 231 correctional programs, it has since been revised by the author. The main thesis statement that concluded that “with a few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far had no appreciable effect on recidivism.” (p. 25.) The next year, in 1975, he refines the statement to: “While some treatment programs have had moderate success…” (p. 627.)


Hubert G. Locke accused Martinson with taking side and being anti-liberalist, “confirmed what a cadre of reactionary policy makers wanted to hear”. (Quoted in: Alraid et al. 2007. p. 18.) state that the survey should have included control groups of randomly selected offenders to be able to represent the true image. Another problem the authors find is that many of the offenders who took part in the survey were part of multiple rehabilitation programs. The study did not take into consideration the possible alternative outcomes of the crime, either. The effectiveness of intervention programs depend on the risks involved, too. If an impending sentencing was the only other alternative, this would have motivated participants more. However, if the offender would have expected only probation, the risks are relatively small for not participating in the program and taking on board the communication delivered by rehabilitation projects.

The Parole System

There are currently different approaches to the parole system. One way is to provide conditional release for offenders, and the other one is the reintegration method. Currently, community sanctions are in place. Some community sanctions are also in place today, and their benefits have been recorded by several authors. (Smith et al. 2002, John Howard Society of Alberta, 1998) Effectiveness can only be measured between groups of offenders placed into different legal intervention programs. Without comparing re offending rate of those released on conditional basis, taking part in a reintegration program or are subject to community sanctions, no results of research can be delivered. Blomberg (1984) defended community corrections, as, according to him, they “widened the net” and increased the control of the society.

The Debate – Meta-Analysis Research

One of the main statements of the Community Corrections Report (1998, p. 1.) is that “corrections programs have often failed to reduce prison populations”. This means that while it has been over forty years since they were introduced, either crime rates increased significantly or the rate of re offending did not decrease. However, Smith et al. found in their detailed meta-analysis study (2002) that “increases in recidivism vary by the severity of the sanction as defined by the difference in time served”. (p. 10) The negative effects of combining incarceration sanctions has also been noted by the meta-analysis. Intermediate sanctions only resulted in one percent decrease of recidivism. One of the benefits of the study is that it provides an overall database for all the research published regarding the effectiveness of different punishment methods.

The study also provides another dimension for research, and this is gender and race differences’ influence on recidivism. That way risk can be determined in the future when policymakers create frameworks and legislation for applying different methods of punishment and intermediary sanctions. The study also concludes that prisons are not the most effective and cheapest ways of preventing criminals from re-offending. The meta-analysis indicated that the statements that labeled prisons as “schools of crime” were somewhat confirmed by the analysis of statistical data. The authors state that “if further research consistently supports findings of slight increases in recidivism then the enormous costs accruing from the excessive use of prison may not be defensible.” (p. 21.)

McNeill (2013), however, approaches the research from a different perspective; he examines how viewing the similarities of punishment and rehabilitation can change the perspective and provide a new scope for eliminating criminal behaviors in the society. He reviews different studies regarding the effectiveness of rehabilitation and finds that there are four different forms of rehabilitation that should be used in order to achieve success in reducing recidivism. These are psychological, judicial, social and moral aspects, and no matter which form of punishment is used, the integrations of the four approaches need to be implemented.


Reviewing the findings of the meta-analysis and research, it is evident that the category “community intervention” or rehabilitation can not be used in order to determine the effectiveness of programs and intervention. As Martinson (1974) stated, some programs work and reduce recidivism. That stated, the next step of the research would be to – using meta-analysis and McNeill’s framework – design intervention and rehabilitation systems that are more effective, cost less and cover all four aspects of rehabilitation:  psychological, judicial, social and moral.


Community corrections. (1998) John Howard Society of Atlanta. Web. Available at <http://www.johnhoward.ab.ca/pub/pdf/C29.pdf> [accessed: 23/4/13]

Alarid, L., Cromwell, P., Del Carmen, R. (2007) Community-based corrections. Cengage Learning. Print.

Smith, P., Goggin, C., Gendreau, P (2002) The Effects of Prison Sentences and Intermediate Sanctions on Recidivism: General Effects and Individual Differences. Web. Available at: <http://www.sgc.gc.ca> [accessed: 23/4/13]

McNeill, F. (2013) When Punishment is Rehabilitation. Web. Available at:             <http://blogs.iriss.org.uk/discoveringdesistance/files/2012/06/McNeill-When-PisR.pdf > [accessed: 23/4/13]

Blomberg, T. (1984) Juvenile court and community corrections. University Press of America. Print.

Martinson, R. (1974). What works? Questions and answers about prison reform. The Public Interest, 35, 22–54