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Further, Martinson derided the theory of “crime as a social phenomena,” arguing that rehabilitative strategies “have on occasion become, and have the potential for becoming, so draconian as to offend the moral order of a democratic society.” He also worried that rehabilitation implied releasing those who have little risk of re-offending, but keeping high-risk criminals locked up so that they might be rehabilitated.He wrote:“A middle-class banker who kills his adulterous wife in a moment of passion is a ‘low risk’ criminal; a juvenile delinquent in the ghetto who commits armed robbery has, statically, a much higher probability of committing another crime.Martinson considered this objection, but not seriously.Rather, he wondered if crime itself is an inevitable outcome of society.For instance, doing well in a prison’s educational programming or counselling made no impact on recidivism.Further, Martinson’s review found that the length of a sentence had no impact on recidivism.
During the Reagan era, conservatives seeking to impose more severe penalties also liked this idea, and many states abolished parole and adopted determinant sentencing policies that called for comparatively harsh sentences.
Are we going to put the first on probation and sentence the latter to a long-term prison?
”By the end of the summary, Martinson indicated that “nothing works.” Although he found a few instances of partial success, he nonetheless concluded that ”I am bound to say that these data, involving over two hundred studies and hundreds of thousands of individuals as they do, are the best available and give us very little reason to hope that we have in fact found a sure way of reducing recidivism through rehabilitation.”You might think this means that prisons simply need to do better rehabilitation, not forsake it all-together.
For example, parole boards were criticized for making racially-biased decisions.
Further, critical theorists like Michel Foucault (1977) problematized the rehabilitative ideal by arguing it widened the net of social control, serving to “enable the state to expand its power over the minds and bodies of socially disruptive, surplus, and/or vulnerable populations.” (Cullen 2005).Interestingly, Martinson’s views were accepted by both progressive and conservative critics of the criminal justice system.