No. XL (2018)

In Search of Effective Methods of Prison Rehabilitation – An Example of the United States

Małgorzata Szwejkowska
University of Economics and Human Scences in Warsaw

Published 2018-09-16


  • rehabilitation,
  • objectives of a punishment,
  • imprisonment,
  • inmate,
  • Risk-Need-Responsivity Model (RNR),
  • assessment,
  • relapse into crime

How to Cite

Szwejkowska, M. (2018). In Search of Effective Methods of Prison Rehabilitation – An Example of the United States. Archives of Criminology, (XL), 431–458.


In its introduction, the article characterises - in a most comprehensible way - themain objectives of criminal sanctions and their role in preventing crime, according tothe most commonly expressed opinions on the subject from American scholars. It isfollowed by a brief history of assessing the risk of committing an offence in the UnitedStates in recent decades. The risk assessment process was developed before World WarII as a tool to predict possible recidivism in the case of inmates released on parole, butit has been in more common use since 1980s. While the “What works?” movementinitially emerged in the United States, one needs to remember the publication of Robert Martinso’s report that created the “Nothing works” (concerning prison rehabilitation)doctrine. It aided the justification of severe changes in punitive prison policies inthe 1970s that continued well into the 1990s, with the slogans “tough on crime, toughon the causes of crime” being more prominent. It took more than a decade to reestablishsome hope in prison rehabilitation programmes and allow the paradigm shiftsto happen – from the retribution “being tough on offenders” policy to more creativeapproaches towards offenders. By constructive approaches to working with offenders,one means the use of effective methods and techniques to alter criminal behaviourof inmates to prevent their possible relapse into crime (crime prevention).The main goal of the article is to present the most fundamental system in the UScriminal justice system that is most commonly applied nowadays: the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model and its principles to offender assessment. The aforementionedprinciples were laid down by Canadian scholars, Donald Arthur Andrews andJames Bonta. In that model, “risk” means the identification of specific factors thatare associated with recidivism (in general, depending on a specific crime, e.g. sexualoffenders or offenders who committed violent crimes). Andrews and Bonta argue thata number of factors need to be considered in any comprehensive theory of criminalbehaviour, including biological or neurological issues, inheritance, temperamentand social and cultural factors, while also noting that criminal behaviour is a multifactorialissue. “Need” assesses criminogenic needs and targets them in prison treatmentprogrammes for elimination, while “responsivity” intends to maximise the offender’sability to learn how to combat possible recidivism through rehabilitative intervention,providing cognitive behavioural treatment – with the said intervention being tailoredto the learning style, motivation, abilities and strengths of the offender.Risk assessment is applied during different stages of the criminal procedure: beforesentencing and during the period of time when the criminal sanction is executed, i.e.while serving a custodial sentence. It must be noted that, in the US justice system, judgesare not the only people obliged to assess the potential risk of an offender relapsinginto crime in the future. Prison officers are also tasked with such assessment. Throughthe application of the RNR model, it is possible for the prison staff to divide inmatesinto specific groups, depending on security levels and adequate treatment programmes.In that case, the assessment tools based on the RNR model not only allow a predictionof a possible relapse into crime, but also a proper allocation of convicts to rehabilitationprogrammes provided within prisons. A convict undergoes an evaluation before andafter the treatment. Such evaluations are imposed on most prisoners, so performingthem does have an impact on the financial and human resources of a given penitentiaryunit.The most important question, “What works in prison?” is answered by the majorityof scholars through propositions of providing cognitive and behavioural skill programmesto the convicts. They have clear criteria to ensure that objectives, methods andapplication of rehabilitation programmes correspond with the needs of criminaloffenders. The conclusion of the research is meant to prove that providing offenders with such treatment (based upon the RNR model) may have a positive effect on re -ducing the risk of relapse into crime in the future. However, the appropriate methodsof treatment are based not only on psychotherapy (or, sometimes, on pharmacologicaltreatment), but also on education, vocational training, personal development, strengtheningself-control mechanisms and improving interpersonal skills.


  1. Andrews D.A., An Overview of Treatment Effectiveness. Research and Clinical Principles, Carleton University Ottawa, Ontario 1994.
  2. Andrews D.A., Bonta J., Psychology of Criminal Conduct, wyd. 6, Routledge, London–New York 2016.
  3. Andrews D.A., Bonta J., Rehabilitating criminal justice and practice, „Psychology, Public Policy, and Law” 2010, t. 16, s. 39–55.
  4. Andrews D.A., Bonta J., Wormith, J.S., The recent, past and near future of risk and/or assessment, „Crime and Delinquency” 2006, t. 52, nr 1, s. 7–27.
  5. Andrews D.A., Zinger I., Hoge R., Bonta J., Gendreau P., Cullen F.T., Does correctional treatment work? A clinically relevant and psychologically informed meta-analysis, „Criminology” 1990, nr 28, s. 369–404.
  6. Bonta J., Bourgon G., Rugge T., Scott T., Yessine A., Translating “What Works” into Sustainable Everyday Practice. Program Design, Implementation and Evaluation, Public Safety Canada, Ottawa 2009.
  7. Cieślak M., Kara. Istota – Cel – Uzasadnienie, Arche, Gdańsk 2011.
  8. Crow I., Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders, Sage, London–Thousand Oaks–New Delhi 2001.
  9. Cullen F.T., Jonson C.L., Nagin D.S., Prisons do not reduce recidivism: The high cost of ignoring science, „The Prison Journal” 2011, nr 91, s. 48S–65S.
  10. Cullen F.T., Make rehabilitation corrections’ guiding paradigm, „Criminology and Public Policy” 2007, t. 6, nr 4, s. 717–728.
  11. Doob A.N., Sprott J.B., Marinos V., Varma K.N., An Exploration of Ontario Residents’ Views of Crime and the Criminal Justice System, Toronto University, Toronto 1998.
  12. Dowden C., Andrews D.A, What works in young offender treatment: A meta-analysis, „Forum on Correctional Research” 1999, t. 11, nr 2, s. 21–24.
  13. Durlauf S.N., Nagin D.S., Imprisonment and crime. Can both be reduced?, „Criminology & Public Policy” 2011, t. 10, nr 1, s. 13–54.
  14. Farabee D., Rethinking Rehabilitation: Why Can’t We Reform Our Criminals?, AEI Press, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington 2005.
  15. Gardocki L., Prawo karne, C.H. Beck, Warszawa 2011.
  16. Garret C.A., Effects of residential treatment of adjusted delinquents: a meta-analysis, „Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency” 1985, nr 22, s. 287–308.
  17. Gendreau P., Ross R.R., Effective correctional treatment. Bibliotherapy for cynics, „Crime and Delinquency” 1979, nr 25, s. 463–489.
  18. Gendreau P., Ross R.R., Revivification of rehabilitation. Evidence from the 1980s, „Justice Quarterly” 1987, nr 4, s. 349–407.
  19. Hirsch A. von, Doing Justice. The Choice of Punishments, Northeastern University Press, Boston 1976.
  20. Hollin C.R., Palmer E.J., Hatcher R.M., Efficacy of correctional cognitive skills programmes [w:] L.A. Craig, L. Dixon, T.A. Gannon (red.), What Works in Offender Rehabilitation. An Evidence – Based Approach to Assessment and Treatment, Wiley and Sons, Chichester 2013, s. 1–13.
  21. Jescheck H., Die Krise der Kriminalpolitik, „Zeitschrift für die gesamte Straffrechtswissenschaft” 1979, z. 1, s. 25–33.
  22. Latessa E.J., Listwan S.J., Koetzle D., What Works and Doesn’t in Reducing Recidivism, Anderson Publishing, Waltham 2014.
  23. Lelental S., Kodeks karny wykonawczy. Komentarz, C.H. Beck, Warszawa 2012.
  24. Levitt D., The effect of prison population size on crime rates: Evidence from prison overcrowding litigation, „Quarterly Journal of Economics” 1996, nr 111, s. 319–352.
  25. Lipsey M.W., Howell J.C., Kelly M.R., Chapman G., Carver D., Improving the Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs: A New Perspective on Evidence – Based Programs, Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University 2010.
  26. Lipton D.S., Martinson R., Wilks J., The Effectiveness of Correctional Treatment: A Survey of Treatment Evaluation Studies, Praeger, New York 1975.
  27. Lipton D.S., Thornton D., McGuire J., Porporino F.J., Hollin C.R., Program accreditation and correctional treatment, „Substance Use and Misuse” 2000, t. 35, nr 12–14, s. 1705–1734.
  28. Lomman J., Abracen J., The risk need responsivity model of offender rehabilitation: Is there really a need for a paradigm shift?, „International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy” 2013, t. 8, nr 3–4, s. 30–36.
  29. Lösel F., Offender treatment and rehabilitation: what works? [w:] M. Maguire, R. Morgan, R. Reiner (red), The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2012, s. 986–1016.
  30. MacKenzie D.L., Criminal justice and crime prevention [w:] L.W. Sherman, D. son Gottfred, D.L. Mackenzie, J. Eck, P. Reuter, S. Bushway, Preventing Crime. What Works, What Doesn´t, What´s Promising. A Report to the United States Congress. Prepared for the National Institute of Justice, Washington 1997, s. 430–513.
  31. Marek A., Funkcje kary pozbawienia wolności na tle zmian polityki karnej [w:] S. Lelental, G. Szczygieł (red.), X lat obowiązywania Kodeksu karnego wykonawczego, Temida 2, Białystok 2009, s. 117–129.
  32. Marshall T.F., Restorative Justice. An Overwiew, Home Office, London 1999.
  33. Marshall W.L., McGuire J., Effect sizes in treatment of sexual offenders, „International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology” 2003, nr 46, s. 653–663.
  34. Marvel T.B., Moody C.E., Prison population and crime reduction, „Journal of Quantitative Criminology” 1994, nr 10, s. 109–139.
  35. Pearson F.S., Lipton D.S., Cleland C.M., Yee D.S., The effects of behavioral/cognitive-behavioral programs on recidivism, „Crime and Delinquency” 2002, t. 48, nr 3, s. 476–496.
  36. Petersilia J., When prisoners return to communities, „Federal Probation” 2001, t. 65, nr 1, s. 3–8.
  37. Pew Center on the States, One in 100. Behind the Bars in America 2008, Pew Charitable Trusts, Washington 2008.
  38. Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism. The Revolving Door of American’s Prisons, Charitable Trusts, Washington 2011.
  39. Redondo S., Sanchez-Meca J., Garrido V., Crime treatment in Europe. A review of outcome studies [w:] J. McGuire (red.), Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment. Effective Programmes and Policies to Reduce Reoffending, Wiley, Chichester 2002, s. 113–141.
  40. Robinson G., Crow I., Offender Rehabilitation. Theory, Research and Practice, Sage, London–Thousand Oaks–New Delhi–Singapore 2012.
  41. Ross R.R., Fabiano E., Ross R.D., Time to Think. A Cognitive Model of Delinquency Prevention and Offender Rehabilitation, Institute of Social Sciences and Arts, Tennessee 1985.
  42. Stańdo-Kawecka B., O znaczeniu fundamentalnych zasad karania w polityce karnej – uwagi na tle przyczyn i skutków „masowego uwięzienia” w Stanach Zjednoczonych, „Nowa Kodyfikacja Prawa Karnego” 2017, t. XLIII, s. 509–521.
  43. Świda W., Prawo karne, PWN, Warszawa 1978.
  44. Sztuka M., Efektywność oddziaływań w zorientowanym korekcyjnie modelu instytucji penitencjarnej: doświadczenia amerykańskie, „Czasopismo Prawa Karnego i Nauk Penalnych” 2007, t. 11, z. 1, s. 313–326.
  45. Tong L.S.J., Farrington D.P., How effective is the “Reasoning and Rehabilitation” programme in reducing reoffending? A meta-analysis of evaluations in four countries, „Psychology, Crime and Law” 2006, t. 12, nr 1, s. 3–24.
  46. Useem B., Piehl A.M., Ledka R.V., The Crime – Control Effect of Incarceration: Reconsidering the Evidence. Final Report to the National Institute of Justice (98-IJ-CX-0085), Washington 2001.
  47. Vollaard B., Preventing crime through selective incapacitation, „The Economic Journal” 2013, t. 123, nr 567, s. 262–284.
  48. Wermink H., Blockland A., Nieuwbert P., Nagin D., Tollenaar N., Comparing the effects of community service and short term imprisonment on recidivism a matched samples approach, „Journal of Experimental Criminology” 2010, nr 6, s. 325–349.
  49. Whitehead J., Lab S.P., From “Nothing Works” to the “Appropriate Works”. The latest stop in the search for the Secular Grail, „Criminology” 1990, t. 28, s. 405–418.
  50. Zedlewski E., Making Confinement Decisions, National Institute of Justice, Washington 1987.
  51. Zimring F.E., Hawkins G., Incapacitation. Penal Confinement and the Restraint of Crime, Oxford University Press, New York 1995.