In the 21st century, society has opened up greatly to the use of rehabilitation in hope’s of bettering its citizens. Programs have been fought for and implemented to rehabilitate even what some might believe is the worst of society, its prisoners. Many resources have been put into creating successful programs for these prisons, with mixed results creating a less than enthusiastic response. Though in the mission of searching for the right programs, many have cast aside the most glaring issue that could be holding back prison rehabilitation from being successful, and that is the prison itself. The needs of a successful program could never be found in a prison and are actively opposed by the environment that does exist within one.
When thinking of a rehabilitation center, there is an attempt to create a picture of a palace with hope and determination working to make a better future for oneself. In almost the completed counter to this, prisons overall are a place of punishment that destroys one’s life. Rehabilitation is for your future, while prisons don’t care about it. In the report “‘The prison don’t talk to you about getting out of prison’: On why prisons in England and Wales fail to rehabilitate prisoners”, taken from Criminology and Criminal Justice, the faults of prison rehabilitation are communicated directly from prisoners. One interview comments how themselves and fellow prisoners “ ‘….haven’t got their house any more. They haven’t got a job and they’re out there thinking, ‘How am I going to survive?’ ” Prison don’t let you leave with hope, rather you end up with less than you had before you went in. It is not difficult to see how a ‘do what needs to be done’ mindset like this would lead to recidivism.
Reentering society, a vital part of the rehabilitation process, is not a goal of prison. The isolated environment does not help this, nor do the programs. In The Prison Journal piece, “Rehabilitation Programs for Incarcerated Drug Offenders in Malaysia: Experience-Based Perspectives on Reintegration and Recidivism”, prisoners provided multiple common themes that they felt held them back from successfully getting through the process. Prisoners felt like they weren’t able to make meaningful relationships in the real world.
“‘After we come out from prison we are still accepted by our friends who are former prisoners, drug addicts and drug pushers. Being outside of prison is unlike prison because in prison we do not have to carry the burden of having to be in our best behavior or prove ourselves in front of others all the time. I don’t know how to behave like normal people, But with our own friends, we can just behave normally.’”
Having a strong community of friends and family around you is an enormous advantage to have in the rehabilitation process, but getting out of prison only leads some to the badly influenced group they started with. Once again only being pushed into the life of an offender.
Rehabilitation programs are only as good as the individuals running them, interacting and supporting the patients on a daily basis. These people must be driven not just to do their job, but to truly help others get better. This is not the archetype for the common prison officer. Referring back to the Criminology and Criminal Justice article, one prisoner admits to the officers “…couldn’t give a monkey’s about your rehabilitation.” The officers aren’t there to help, they only are trying to make it through the day without the least amount of problems. In their defense, their main concern should be the “..maintaining their safety and that of prisoners…” as one prisoner puts it, since that is usually the job they are hired for, not babysitting prisoners to make sure they are following through all the steps of their programs.
Even if they did give a true helping hand in rehabilitation, there will also be an undeniable power dynamic in place between a prisoner and officer. Ben Crew describes this relationship in his essay “Soft power in prison: Implications for staff–prisoner relationships, liberty and legitimacy”. Crew uses the term “soft-power” to convey the hold officers and other members of prison staff hold over the prisoners, even if it is not explicit by rule or law. Officers have the ability to make everyday life better or worse through small favors or punishments, and that never leaves the minds of those in the system. Prisoners Crew interviewed discussed the hypocriticalness that comes when both are forced to put on a fake facade, saying it feels as though officers are they to ““… ‘play mind games with you.’” Animosity and distrust in those meant to be guiding you will never lead to any success.
Rehabilitation centers that yield results also have the ability to put all their resources into their programs, when prisons are forced to stretch themselves thin. Greg Newbold comments on this issue in his piece “Criminal Reoffending and the Failure of Corrections: Rehabilitating Criminals Ain’t That Easy”. He outlines the needs of a rehabilitation center, one or more not being in most prisons. These include identifying the specific needs of each offender, tailor making the program to their needs, and it being delivered by staff who are properly trained and committed, and be properly funded. If even one of these needs are not met the program is likely to fail, Newbold claims. Newbold uses the example of the Integrated Offender Management program that was meant to reduce recidivism by 15% over the course of two years. Though because it was never implemented properly, the results never came. This was because of the amount of time and resources needed, which were not realistic and could not be met.
All the effort to rehabilitate prisoners comes with good intention, but it is inherently an impossible task. Not due to the programs themselves, but because a prison is not an environment that can foster it. There will always be necessary powers not prevalent, such as resources or propper support , and there will always be antagonistic factors that only suppress the rehabilitation process.
Bullock, K., & Bunce, A. (2020). ‘The prison doesn’t talk to you about getting out of prison’: On why prisons in England and Wales fail to rehabilitate prisoners. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 20(1), 111–127. https://doi.org/10.1177/1748895818800743
Cheah, P. K., Unnithan, N. P., & Raran, A. M. S. (2020). Rehabilitation Programs for Incarcerated Drug Offenders in Malaysia: Experience-Based Perspectives on Reintegration and Recidivism. The Prison Journal, 100(2), 201–223. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032885519894656
Crewe B. Soft power in prison: Implications for staff–prisoner relationships, liberty and legitimacy. European journal of criminology. 2011;8(6):455-468. doi:10.1177/1477370811413805
Newbold, G. (2006) Criminal Reoffending and the Failure of Corrections: Rehabilitating Criminals Ain’t That Easy. https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/647