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Rehab Flops

We are often told that alternatives to prison will do as well to protect us, will cost less, and will mark a step forward in our humanity.  Leading the list of alternatives is more "investment" in rehabilitation.

Only one thing.

An expert with the Heritage Foundation (which disagrees with me on sentencing reform), spills the beans.
David Muhlhausen writes:

The Department of Labor has released the results of its two-year evaluation of the federal program Reintegration of Ex-Offenders (RExO), designed to help ex-offenders find employment and reduce recidivism.

The evaluation provides evidence that the RExO grants are ineffective. While disappointing, the results are not surprising: Failure is the norm for federal social programs.

The program began as a combined initiative of the U.S. Departments of Labor and Justice and other federal agencies in 2005. It provides grants to local organizations to administer employment-focused prisoner re-entry programs.

The rigorous multi-site experimental evaluation, recently finished, assessed the effectiveness of federal grants to 24 local employment-based re-entry programs.

Almost 4,700 former prisoners were randomly assigned to program and control groups.

While members of the program group were more likely to receive employment and mentoring services than their counterparts in the control group, these services had only a slight effect on employment and earnings, while having no impact on criminal justice outcomes.

I will add only two points.  First, genuine rehabilitation cannot come from a government program.  It has to come from the inmate's heart.  Once he decides he wants to change the way he deals with the world, he has a chance.  Until then, he doesn't. The government is simply not wise enough to know how to make the fundamental change true rehabilitation requires, and I (for one) wouldn't want a government powerful enough to try.

Second, we should nonetheless increase our spending on rehab.  The chances are low but the stakes are high.  Almost every prisoner returns to civil society.  For his sake and for ours, every effort should be made to give him the best shot we can, even knowing the chances are poor.


You nailed your first point, Bill.

In my experience, there were two kinds of inmates. A very small minority who were committed to bettering themselves (mostly made up up of people who were never really evil to begin with but did something really, really stupid) and the overwhelming majority who didn't get it even after being arrested, convicted, and thrown into prison.

The first group, which I will estimate at about 10% of the prison population, were open to and accepted rehabilitation. They went to and were active in school, substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, etc. They were good inmates and I have no doubt that many made it on the outside.

The second group actively fought the help being provided. They would only participate in programs under threat of a misbehavior report and then do the bare minimum. For the most part, no amount of cajoling or persuasion would get them to improve themselves. I will not say it never happens but the examples are so rare and fantastic that Hollywood likes to make movies about them and STILL has to exaggerate the turnaround.

That is why I disagree with the second part. I would cut funding and spend every penny on the 10%. No more required rehabilitation programming. If they need to be forced by threat of loss of privileges and good time to go to school, they will not get anything out of it. By the time we would get them in prison, it was too late. Too many years of selfishness, bad habits, etc.

The issue is 0-18 years of age, not rehabilitating them after 18. Stop the need for rehabilitation. Until America figures this out, we will continue to be "incarceration nation" and be having the same conversations about rehabilitating grown men who have been in the same negative pattern for 30 years.

This will raise guffaws from some, but so be it. We used to be a nation of people who enforced morality on each other. We did not commit crimes because it was "wrong." As our moral compass waned, morality was replaced by laws (How many new laws are there in the last 50 years or so compared to the first 175?) and government. We don't ask if it is "wrong" anymore, we ask if it is "legal."

Until we get back to the old way of doing things, we will continue to only address the fringes. It is like debating the best way to remove a bunion while the patient chokes on turpentine.

Not everyone at Heritage has drunk the soft-on-crime Kool-Aid. It does not surprise me that Muhlhausen is telling it like it is. He has been a straight shooter for a long time.

Hope he keeps his job.

TarlsQtr, for those who are not regular readers here, would you like to briefly restate what your experience is? I think it is relevant to your point.

Some comment threads make me wonder whether it's worth the candle. This one reminds me why it is.

I'll let TarlsQtr speak for himself, but his telling observations are an invaluable lesson.

We have academics and their slanted "studies," and then we have people who have been there and can tell us what actually goes on.

Just an aside: I met TarlsQtr years ago on a NYT death penalty comment thread. His logic and tell-it-like-it-is style immediately stood out. I was so impressed that I asked if he would visit me at my beach home, and was delighted when he did.

The guy is as smart as they come, and well-versed in the field discussed in this post. I will bet that he has given more help toward genuine rehabilitation than all the sanctimony in the halls of academia put together.

I would be happy to, Kent.

I was a certified teacher in NY and after a brief flirtation with the public school system, I taught ten plus years for the New York State Department of Corrections. While there, I worked in virtually all security levels including maximum security, in a S-Block (NY's version of a Supermax although they do not call it such), and medium security. At different times, I also taught classes made up completely of sex offenders, a class for violent mentally ill inmates, and a protective custody unit. Although pro-death penalty, I testified in Federal court for the defense in a high profile DP case.

I moved to Kentucky in 2009 and now write training for the Department of Homeland Security that is delivered to rural first responders.

Bill, as usual, you are too kind. :-)

Just a bit of perspective to add.

One of the initiatives while I was with DOCS was to teach "soft skills." We were literally teaching grown men to shower, shave, wear decent clothes, show up on time, and don't cuss at a job interview.

As far as skills, I taught ABE 1 much of my time which is ABC123 level stuff. Counting, the alphabet, adding, and reading up to the second grade level. We had vocational programs including custodial. They had lessons on how to hold a mop or broom.

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