The Effectiveness of Prison Rehabilitation in the United States

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Prison rehabilitation refers to the re-integration into the society of persons who have been convicted of crimes. The main purpose of prison rehabilitation is to counter the criminal recidivism or rather a habitual offending. Guidance and aftercare towards the defender, probation orders, and community service are some of the alternatives to imprisonment. Rehabilitation of prisoners is very delicate, and its success in helping the convicted individuals is dependent on certain conditions. Under the law, a successful prison rehabilitation is one that enables the convicted persons to enjoy statutory regulations that are clear and detailed in terms of ascertaining the safeguards governing and applicable in the disposal and use of any record of data linked to criminal matters (Weisburd, Farrington, & Gill, 2017). However, this success is complement by other factors such as enabling the prisoners to learn new skills which will enable them to sustain their lives once back in society without necessarily indulging in crime. Additionally, the prisoners ought to be offered a chance to maintain ties with the outside world, enjoy access to medical care, and not subjected in bad conditions that are health-threatening (Weisburd, Farrington, & Gill, 2017).

Research Question

Does prison rehabilitation work in the United States?

Research Purpose

The main purpose of purpose of the paper is to establish whether prison rehabilitation in America is effective in the perspective of law.

Background Information

The prison populace in the US has progressively increased in significant numbers over the last few decades. By the year 2008, the U.S had close to a quarter of all the prisoners in the world in spite of having less than 5 percent of the global population (World Prison Brief, 2018). Statistics indicate that the U.S has 2.3 million more criminals imprisoned than any other nation across the world (World Prison Brief, 2018). Further, the incarceration rates are also shocking given that for every 100,000 US population, 751 people are in jail or prison and if the figure is narrowed down to only include adults, then 1 in every 100 Americans is behind bars (World Prison Brief, 2018). These statistics attest to the fact that the gap between the effectiveness of the US prison rehabilitation and that of the other nations across the globe is enormous and growing.

Literature Review

The issue of the effectiveness of the prison rehabilitation is raised in the 18th title of the United States Code which states that judges who are conferred with the authority to sentence convicts should make such decisions with the full knowledge that imprisonment is an inappropriate means of promoting rehabilitation and correction (Legal Information Institute, 2018). This statement is supported by statistics obtained upon evaluation of the US prison rehabilitation effectiveness. For instance, a study by Lipsey, & Cullen (2007), established that less than 1 percent of the total budget (about $7.4 billion) allocated for prison rehabilitation amongst local, state, and federal prisons was spent on treatment and crime prevention. A majority of the inmates under prison rehabilitation, more than half, suffer from mental health problem (Kratcoski, & Kratcoski, 2017).  Therefore, as provided in the law, prisoners ought to be safeguarded through mental and emotional health counseling as well as education.

However, rather than being a usual friendly rehabilitation, conditions in the US prisons subject the convicted persons to more agony rather than serve as an effective correctional facility against the wellbeing and rights accorded to them by the constitution and which if observed would result into significant effectiveness of the prison rehabilitation. Such issues have been raised in several case laws. For instance, In Hoptowit v. Ray the court found constitutionality lacking in some of the areas raised by the inmates such as inadequate recreational, educational, and vocational opportunities, inadequate physical plant, segregation, and protective custody units, torturous conditions in the isolation, improper classification of inmates, insufficient and poorly trained guards, the continuation of a lockdown, increasing violence, inadequate medical care, and overcrowding.  Consequently, the court awarded broad injunctive relief. More so in Miller v. Alabama, the courts observe that prison rehabilitation subjected inmates to excessive sanctions against the provisions of the eighth amendment. In most cases, punishment for crime during prison rehabilitation is not graduated and proportioned from the basic precepts of justice as intended by courts during sentencing.


The conclusive remarks that can be drawn from this research are that prison rehabilitation in the US is ineffective. As presented, statistics give a clear stance on the issue given that the US emerged as the least globally in terms of prison rehabilitation effectiveness. Furthermore, the US criminal code acknowledges that prison is an inappropriate means of rehabilitation. Furthermore, several case laws have cited that the manner in which prison rehabilitation is conducted in the United States lacks in terms of constitutionality. 


Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237 (9th Cir. 1982).

Kratcoski, P. C., & Kratcoski, P. C. (2017). Correctional counseling and treatment. New York: Springer.

Legal Information Institute. (2018). U.S. Code: Title 18 - CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE. Retrieved from

Lipsey, M. W., & Cullen, F. T. (2007). The effectiveness of correctional rehabilitation: A review of systematic reviews. Annu. Rev. Law Soc. Sci., 3, 297-320.

Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 567 U.S. 460, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012).

Weisburd, D., Farrington, D. P., & Gill, C. (2017). What works in crime prevention and rehabilitation: An assessment of systematic reviews. Criminology & Public Policy, 16(2), 415-449.

World Prison Brief. (2018). World Prison Brief | an online database comprising information on prisons and the use of imprisonment around the world. Retrieved from

December 12, 2023

Crime Law

Subject area:

Prison Criminal Justice

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