Last week, a U.S. House subcommittee held hearings on the Second Chance Act, which is meant to deal with the problems that prisoners encounter on their reentry into society and also with their need for substance abuse treatment, writes David Farabee, a research psychologist at UCLA, in the Washington Post. If history is any indication, state and federal correctional systems will be pressured to emphasize rehabilitation an umbrella term that includes everything from psychodrama, social skills training and art therapy to college coursework and drug abuse treatment. Some psychologists have pointed to large treatment initiatives over the past few years as evidence that the “pendulum” is swinging from punishment to treatment.
This preference is based on the common misconception that effective rehabilitation programs exist and merely need to be expanded. The reality is that most of the state and federally funded interventions in use have never been evaluated, and the few rigorous assessments that have been published in journals of psychology and criminology show that these traditional rehabilitation programs have no lasting effect, Farabee contends. He says research shows that the more certain an offender is that he will be caught and swiftly punished for the next crime he commits, the less likely he is to follow through on that criminal act. Implementing effective reentry policies will require a resolve to make practical changes, such as reducing the size of probation and parole caseloads so that supervising officers can be effective monitors. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Ks.), a sponsor of the Second Chance Act, observed that the criminal justice system needs to be “reinvented.” Farabee says tackling recidivism “is a serious business requiring serious solutions, and it is unlikely to involve workbooks, videos, or talk therapy.”