Custom «The Use of Rehabilitation in Sentencing» Essay Paper Sample

The Use of Rehabilitation in Sentencing


Individuals who have already experienced the criminal justice process commit approximately half of all crime. It implies that there is a great problem in the criminal justice system. An effective criminal justice process should be capable of reducing reoffending. To the taxpayer, reoffending implies that they will have to look for additional finances to pay the costs of re-incarceration. Irrespective of the substantial government spending on prison management and facilities, recidivism has increased significantly. Studies affirm that there has been very little transformation in the reconviction rates. With jails filled with reoffenders suffering from mental and behavioral problems, as well as substance abuse, the costs of maintaining prison facilities continue rising. In order to address such problems, prison policies required the integration of strict and intelligent criminal justice system, which is capable of punishing and supporting criminals simultaneously. A perfect sentencing model capable of addressing such problems was rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is not a new initiative in the criminal justice system. However, its past implementation has frequently yielded unsatisfactory results as indicated with increasing rate of recidivism. Consequently, comprehensive studies have been investigating the establishment of evidence-based rehabilitation programs, offering effective ways that deliver punishment, while supporting offenders. According to it, current paper discusses the use of rehabilitation in sentencing, its effectiveness and variant models.

The Concept and Significance of Rehabilitation

In the criminal justice process, rehabilitation means the process of transforming the criminal lifestyle of an offender into law-abiding citizens through education, treatment and training (Schmalleger & Smykla, 2011). Rehabilitative sentencing model places emphasis on the offender rather than on the crime. The offender is prescribed a sentence predicted to be the most effective in making him or her better. It results in the individualization of sentencing. According to Schmalleger & Smykla (2011), punishment is made to fit the criminal and not the crime. With comparatively less emphasis on crime, the outcome of rehabilitation is that two criminals committing similar offenses can receive extremely different sentences if they differ in needs. Rehabilitation supporters strongly believe that individuals commit crimes due to the substance abuse or mental health issues (Schmalleger & Smykla, 2011). Rehabilitation has the following goals as discussed below.

The first goal of rehabilitation is to transform the lifestyles of criminals (Schmalleger & Smykla, 2011). By properly educating and subjecting them to mental treatment, criminals can correct their offending behavior and become law-abiding citizens. By changing the lifestyles of criminals into law-abiding citizens, rehabilitation reduces the recidivism and frees of prison facilities. It translates to low cost of maintaining such facilities and, eventually, the lessening of the burden on the taxpayer. Other forms of sentencing, such as imprisonment and fines, also have the objective of correcting the offending behavior of criminal. However, they differ from rehabilitation in the sense that they emphasize on crime and, consequently, they do not educate or subject offenders to mental treatment (Torrey, et al., 2014). It explains why imprisonment has constantly failed to address the problem of recidivism.

The second goal of rehabilitation, besides changing criminal lifestyle, is to reintegrate the criminal into the society as a productive individual. A study done by Torrey, et al. (2014) indicates that most offenders find it hard to reintegrate into the community because they feel stigmatized or lack something they can give to the community. Since they cannot reintegrate into the community, they revert to crime. During rehabilitation, offenders undergo counseling, which helps them overcome stigmatization. Education provides them necessary skills and helps them realize their talents, which can assist in improving their abilities. With improved abilities and mental health, offenders engage in productive activities, which assist them to socialize with members of community.

Due to such benefits, there has been an urgent need for the return of rehabilitation. As of 2012, there were about 356.628 inmates suffering from mental illness in prisons and jails (Torrey, et al., 2014). Other orms of punishment could not address the problem because they were not offender-oriented but crime-oriented. Rehabilitation was considered the remedy for the problem due to its emphasis on offender.

Effectiveness of Rehabilitation

The effectiveness of rehabilitation is one of controversial issues in the criminal justice as it deals with the taxpayers, as well. Such controversy has attracted the participation of psychologists who conduct studies on the causes of crime and the psychological impacts of imprisonment. Initially, during the 1970s, when the US prison system witnessed major changes, there were extremely little data for psychologists to evaluate in order to establish the causes of crime (Benson, 2003). However, for the past few decades, psychologists have generated immense number of works that document the significance of poverty, early exposure to drug and substance abuse, child abuse and other factors contributing to criminal behavior. The works have pointed out that approaches emphasizing on the individuals require to be complemented by community-based approaches (Benson, 2003). It implies that effectiveness of rehabilitation is reliant on community-based approaches rather than the process itself (Benson, 2003).

The effectiveness of rehabilitation has also been examined from the perspective of juvenile offending. According to the Federal Juvenile and Delinquency Act (FJDA), juvenile criminals can only be tried in a court as adults only after considering whether trying them is in the interest of justice. According to Shukla (2012), this provision by the FJDA is centered on two crucial assumptions. The first assumption is that children offenders will not be subject to the same treatment as adults committing similar crimes. The second assumption is that children offenders are not fully equipped with the tools necessary to practical decision-making. Due to the malleability of child’s mind, it is crucial for the community to lead juvenile offenders in the right direction by making them aware of their possibility for demonstrating growth and maturity. Besides, the malleability of child’s mind makes them appropriate for rehabilitation (Shukla, 2012). For instance, Shukla (2012) reported that states implementing juvenile rehabilitation witness 50 percent decline in reoffending.

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According to Patch (2013), the effectiveness of rehabilitation in preventing reoffending rates has been successful when appropriately implemented. Similar to wrongful prescription by the doctor, prescribing rehabilitation for criminals not suited for it will result in the failure of the process (Patch, 2013).

Rehabilitation Assessment Process

The success of rehabilitation assessment was not documented between 1930s, which is similar to the lack of documentation in the ideology of rehabilitation. Since the 1970s, successful assessments have been conducted (Bonta & Andrews, 2007). The same principal of assessing successful rehabilitation programs has also been applied to the selection process and risk assessment of the ones that will efficiently complete the rehabilitation program (Van der Knaap, Leenarts, Born, & Oosterveld, 2012).

For the past few decades, structured risk assessment instruments have been widely employed in probation and correction (Van der Knaap, Leenarts, Born, & Oosterveld, 2012). Consequently, an immense literature sources have been developed on the predictive validity of risk assessment instruments. Remarkably, through reliability in and inter-rater reliability are somewhat ignored. Such ignorance is striking due to the fact that risk evaluation instruments are often completed by probation or other practitioners, as inter-rater reliability is concerned (Van der Knaap, Leenarts, Born, & Oosterveld, 2012). Unlike rehabilitation process, which relies on community-based approaches, risk assessment relies on the subjective evaluation and clinical inference by the raters. According to Van der Knaap, Leenarts, Born, & Oosterveld (2012), when judges and prosecutors consider risk assessments during the trial of the offender, sub-standard reliability of such evaluations might compromise the fairness of the legal decision. Similarly, the selection of the appropriate behavioral or mental intervention needs to be free from the errors of the rater in the evaluation of the offender (Bonta & Andrews, 2007).

Effective Rehabilitation Model

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring has been cited as the most effective evidence-based therapy. Letourneau, et al. (2009) defined cognitive restructuring as a rehabilitation process that redirects the thinking of a criminal into a socially acceptable direction. According to Letourneau, et al. (2009), cognitive restructuring therapies represent a broad category of interventions focusing on human transformation via demonstrated behavioral outcomes.

Such model highlights the relationship between cognitions and human behavior, while the dysfunctional behaviors undergo transformations in thought process and attitudes. However, some authors have also argued that little is known about the impacts of cognitive restructuring on institutional behavior despite such programs reducing reoffending (Schmalleger & Smykla, 2011). Cognitive therapy is appropriate to inmates with mental illnesses and establishes thinking patterns, which can result in self-destructive behavior.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST)

MST refers to an intensive community - or family-based treatment program focusing on dealing with environmental system that affects violent or chronic juvenile criminals (Letourneau, et al., 2009). Schools, homes, families, neighborhoods, teachers and friends constitute such environmental system. In this model, each system has a crucial role in curbing reoffending among juvenile criminals (Letourneau, et al., 2009). Various studies have acknowledged the effectiveness of MST in reducing rates of recidivism. The results of Letourneau et al. (2006) study support the ability of the model to attain favorable results pertaining to antisocial problem and sexual behavior. However, the model has been found to be effective for very aggressive and chronic offenders aged between 12 and 17 (Torrey, et al., 2014).

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The CBT is a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies. Various studies, including McKenzie (2006), have cited CBT to be an effective therapy. According to MacKenzie (2006), the therapy is based on the notion that one’s feelings and thoughts are crucial in determining their behavior. Therefore, by modifying the feelings and thoughts (cognitions), the therapy can achieve good results. In McKenzie’s (2006) study, CBT proved to be effective in rehabilitating sexual offenders, significantly reducing their rate.

Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Model

It refers to a model for assessing the candidates suitable for rehabilitation. The model is based on three pivotal principles as suggested by the name: risk principle, need principle and responsivity principle (Bonta & Andrews, 2007). According to the risk principle, the rater matches the level of service to the risk of the offender recidivating, based on both dynamic factors, such as antisocial attitudes and static factors, including age, arrest history and age at first arrest. According to the need principle, the rater evaluates the criminogenic needs and targets them in treatment. According to Bonta & Andrews (2007), criminogenic factors refer to changeable risk factors, such as rage, anger, lack of empathy and substance abuse that have been proven to influence reoffending (Bonta & Andrews, 2007). Consequently, the intensity of treatment is dependent on the risk of recidivating. Responsivity principle requires the maximization of the criminal’s capability to learn from transformation intervention by offering cognitive behavioral treatment and modifying the intervention to the style of learning, capabilities and strengths of the offender (Bonta & Andrews, 2007).


Rehabilitation sentencing has proved to be an effective way of addressing problems in the correctional systems. The restorative model is linked to several problems, such as overcrowding in prison cells, burden on taxpayers, mental and behavioral problems. Rehabilitation attempts to address such problems, while decreasing the rate of recidivism among offenders. The availability of various models of rehabilitation, such as CBT, MST and cognitive restructurings, makes it more flexible. The CBT model is appropriate for sex offenders. The MST is suitable for rehabilitating juvenile offenders. Cognitive restructuring is suitable for rehabilitating offenders with self-destructive behaviors. Two or more models can be used depending on the needs of the offenders.

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