Since sentencing was seen as an individualized, offender-based enterprise (as opposed to the administration of guilt, which was based on completion of the elements of the offense), the main criterion for release was "rehabilitation", that is, establishing that the inmate had been reformed and was no longer a threat to public safety. Prisons had a variety of rehabilitative programs, though many of these, as depicted in the movie, were farcical fronts for the economic enterprise. The move to a system relying on determinate sentences, giving prosecutors and legislators more power than judges and parole boards, was the outcome of a new discourse, which (among other things) discredited the rehabilitative value of prison programs.
This discourse was impacted in a major day by Robert Martinson's meta-study What Works? Questions and Answers About Prison Reform, which was published on The Public Interest. In the study, Martinson examined the recidivism rates of 600 prison programs, as examined by other studies, and came to the conclusion that there is --
very little reason to hope that we have in fact found a sure way for reducing recidivism through rehabilitation. This is not to say that we did not find instances of success or partial success; it is only to say that these instances have been isolated, producing no clear pattern to indicate the efficacy of any particular method of treatment.
Martinson's results, later confirmed by a review by a National Academy of Science panel, were devastating to the rehabilitative enterprise, and lent scientific credibility to the critique against indeterminate sentencing. While later studies have criticized some of Martinson's methodology, Martinson provided an invaluable service to us all. As David Farabee argues, there was a broader lesson in all this, which is not different in essence from the important words Harold Atkins said in our opening panel: it is not enough to come up with a rehabilitative program. We have to know that it works.
Newer works in the last few years have come to more optimistic conclusions about rehabilitative programs in prison. Check out, for example, Rick Sarre's excellent conference paper, pointing to newer meta-studies that found more programs that 'work'. However, we have to keep in mind, as Doris MacKenzie reminds us, that these programs differ greatly from each other in terms of their underlying philosophies (boot camps are different from drug courts!), and some of them are more suitable than others for certain types of crimes or groups of offenders.
If Jim Webb's efforts to create a criminal justice commission, or the important work done in places like the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections, come to fruition, one important question it will have to answer is, how do we measure what works? What indexes of success might we have beyond recidivism measures? And, are we to stick to one penological philosophy, or are we willing to accept that different things "work" for different people? what do you think?