In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rehabilitation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • Risk Assessment
  • Cognitive Behavioral Programming
  • Substance-Abuse Treatment
  • Medical and Mental-Health Treatment
  • Education, Employment, and Skills Development
  • Reentry Programming
  • Specialty Courts for Community Treatment
  • Treatment for Individuals Convicted of a Sexual Offense
  • Treatment for Women Involved in the Criminal Justice System

Criminology Rehabilitation
Beth M. Huebner, Victoria Inzana
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0046


Rehabilitation is a central goal of the correctional system. This goal rests on the assumption that individuals can be treated and desist from crime. Rehabilitation was a central feature of corrections in the first half of the 20th century. The favorability of rehabilitation programming declined in the 1970s and 1980s but has regained favor in recent years. Rehabilitation includes a broad array of programs, including mental health, substance abuse, and educational services. Specialty programs have also been developed for women, people who have been convicted of sex offenses, and individuals supervised on parole. Rehabilitation has also been introduced in the court system through the creation of specialized courts (see Oxford Bibliographies in Criminology articles such as “Drug Courts” and “Mental Health Courts”). The following literature summarizes the prominent works in this area and provides sources of reliable data on a range of treatment and rehabilitation programs.

General Overviews

As noted, the popularity of rehabilitative programs has varied over time. Although rehabilitation has always been a part of correctional programming, the “nothing works” conclusions of Martinson 1974, in combination with the distrust in the government associated with the 1970s, brought down the rehabilitative ideal that had gained prominence in the preceding decades (see Garland 2001 for details). Cullen and Gendreau 2000 presents an excellent summary of the historical trends in treatment and describes the principal elements of modern treatment services. More recently, researchers have focused on what works for individuals under specific circumstances. MacKenzie 2006 provides an excellent description of model treatment and rehabilitation programs for juveniles and adults. Students interested in a general overview of treatment modalities for juvenile incarcerated persons should look to Howell 2008. Gaes, et al. 1999 presents a similar summary of best practices in correctional treatment, and describes some of the challenges in conducting evaluation studies of treatment programming. Several meta-analyses have also been conducted that provide a statistical summary of the efficacy of treatment programs. Andrews, et al. 1990 evaluates the components of effective treatment with adult incarcerated persons. Lipsey 1992 presents a similar analysis with juvenile incarcerated persons; both works highlight the efficacy of cognitive programming. Most recently, researchers on behalf of the National Research Council detail the extant literature on institutional and community treatment for incarcerated persons (National Research Council Committee on Community Supervision and Desistance from Crime 2008). Much of the program evaluation literature is conducted on the local level. The National Institute of Corrections provides a superb resource for local research studies. Research on rehabilitation is often measured using rates of recidivism; however, Klingele 2019 suggests reasons why recidivism may be a poor metric for evaluating the success of rehabilitation and advocates for more nuanced metrics.

  • Andrews, D. A., Ivan Zinger, Robert D. Hoge, James Bonta, Paul Gendreau, and Francis T. Cullen. 1990. Does correctional treatment work? A clinically relevant and psychologically informed meta-analysis. Criminology 28.3: 369–404.

    Meta-analysis of juvenile and adult correctional treatment programs administered over the past two decades. Results suggest that programs that deliver treatment to higher risk cases, target criminogenic needs, and match with client learning styles are most likely to achieve positive results.

  • Cullen, Francis T., and Paul Gendreau. 2000. Assessing correctional rehabilitation: Policy, practice, and prospects” In Criminal justice 2000. Vol. 3, Policies, processes, and decisions of the criminal justice system. Edited by Julie Horney, 109–175. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

    Extensive, theoretically rich discussion of the history and practice of correctional treatment. Denotes principal elements of effective rehabilitation programs and describes model programs. Includes numerous citations of relevant research; an excellent bibliographic tool for researchers, students, and practitioners.

  • Gaes, Gerald G., Timothy J. Flanagan, Laurence L. Motiuk, and Lynn Stewart. 1999. Adult correctional treatment. In Crime and justice: A review of research. Vol. 26, Prisons. Edited by Michael Tonry and Joan Petersilia, 361–426. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Comprehensive analysis and summary of research on adult correctional treatment. Includes a detailed discussion of extant research on cognitive skills programming, drug treatment, educational and vocational services, and treatment for individuals convicted of a sexual offense. Presents a succinct methodological discussion of the challenges of program evaluation.

  • Garland, David W. 2001. The culture of control: Crime and social order in contemporary society. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This book traces the ideals of penal control through the history of the United States and Britain and ends by showing how new and current structures of everyday life have changed our control culture. It focuses on how context matters for dictating the way in which we practice rehabilitation and penal punishment.

  • Howell, James C. 2008. Preventing and reducing juvenile delinquency: A comprehensive framework. 2d ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    Introductory text outlining the history of the juvenile justice system, the etiology of juvenile delinquency and gang membership, and effective rehabilitative and prevention programming for juveniles. Accessible introduction that could be used as a text for an advanced undergraduate or graduate course.

  • Klingele, Cecilia M. 2019. Measuring change: From rates of recidivism to markers of desistance. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 109.4: 769–817.

    This article suggests reasons why recidivism alone is a poor metric for evaluating the success of rehabilitative interventions in the criminal justice system. This article advocates that instead of measuring success by simple rates of recidivism, there should be more nuanced metrics.

  • Lipsey, Mark W. 1992. Juvenile delinquency treatment: A meta-analytic inquiry into the variability of effects. In Meta-analysis for explanation: A casebook. Edited by Thomas D. Cook, Harris Cooper, David S. Cordray, et al., 83–128. New York: Russell Sage.

    Frequently cited meta-analysis of the literature on juvenile delinquency treatment. Treatment that is multimodal, behavioral, and includes a cognitive component had the most success for juveniles. Services provided in the community had larger effects on delinquency than programs implemented in an institution.

  • MacKenzie, Doris Layton. 2006. What works in corrections: Reducing the criminal activities of offenders and delinquents. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Evidence-based description of promising programs designed to reduce recidivism. Provides extensive statistical summaries of treatment modalities for different groups of individuals and correctional and therapeutic interventions. Excellent resource for students and correctional personnel.

  • Martinson, Robert. 1974. What works? Questions and answers about prison reform. Public Interest 10:22–54.

    Statistical summary of twenty years of correctional programming. Analysis suggests that rehabilitative programming does not reduce recidivism. Seminal article that had a large influence on the public policy of the 1970s and 1980s.

  • National Institute of Corrections.

    Comprehensive online resource center for current research on correctional interventions and treatment. Includes an extensive library of scholarly research and state-level technical reports and commentary.

  • National Research Council Committee on Community Supervision and Desistance from Crime. 2008. Parole, desistance from crime, and community integration. Washington, DC: National Academies.

    Designed as a primer on prisoner reentry; includes a detailed summary of the literature on institutional and community treatment for inmates. Argues for the importance of wraparound treatment services for inmates reentering the community.

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