Rehabilitation is now unfashionable, and our predecessors are being maligned for having advocated it. But (they) are to be commended, not condemned, for developing this concept, because their ideal made good sense.
For if rehabilitation can be accomplished, if life styles can be changed so that offenders live crime-free, there is no more humane or effective way to contribute to a reduction of crime.
Where we went wrong was that we claimed we could impose rehabilitation without any evidence that this was true, and then ignored negative results when they became available.
But what is a balanced view of rehabilitation?
People do change, and often for the better. Reformation does occur. The majority of people leaving our prisons never return for a new crime. While it is apparent that the system cannot impose rehabilitation on its subjects, providing an opportunity for self-improvement to those who want to change is sound and defensible.
Thus, while there is no justification for sending people to prison for rehabilitation, if it is necessary to confine people for public protection, an opportunity for rehabilitation ought to be offered.
If we expect to make this offer mean something, however, we must do at least three things that have too often not been done. We must provide a reasonably safe and healthful environment so that the positive gains a program can offer will not be destroyed by unnecessary physical and emotional stress.
The program must fit the needs of the individual in some clear and logical way. And the offenders must become involved in determining their own destiny. This does not mean that offenders do what they want or need do nothing at all. It means they must have a part in responsible personal planning.
If we can achieve these aims - and it will not happen overnight - we may find that people will be motivated to seize the opportunity for positive development.