Rehabilitation: A societal issue?

It's not feasible for correctional institutions alone to be responsible for the successful rehabilitation of offenders

All across America, from the golden coastline of California to the majestic mountains and valleys of North Carolina, there is a prevalent and astonishingly similar theme being taught in the world of corrections. Correctional academies, in-service trainings, and orientations are educating correctional officers in county, state, and federal government positions about the concept of rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation is expected to be highly utilized in the officers’ day to day duties and is deemed to be the ultimate goal of corrections. Rehabilitation can best be defined as “To restore to good health or useful life, as through therapy and education” ("American heritage dictionary ," 2014). Rehabilitation, however, can be explained more crudely when pertaining specifically to inmates and offers the notion that with the right programs and services provided in correctional facilities, inmates can “be fixed.”

State penitentiaries, correctional facilities, federal complexes, county jails, and detention centers generally offer religious and educational classes, trade schools, and employment training and opportunities both within the walls of the institution as well as with outside work crews.

In addition to these services, mental health programs may be available as well as opportunities for inmates to detox off of drugs and/or alcohol and attend classes regarding sobriety. Taken at face value, it would seem that corrections authorities have developed an all-encompassing system that provides inmates nationwide with opportunities for self-improvement and developing personal responsibility, along with providing inmates with the tools to be lawful and productive members of society.

Is it possible that correctional entities have indeed provided the means for successful rehabilitation, but that societal issues prevent the completion of such efforts? Is rehabilitation also a societal issue, not just one of individualistic objective?

Before we examine society’s possible role in rehabilitation, let us first examine the general inmate profile in America:

Approximately 53 percent of state and 45 percent of federal inmates meet criteria for drug dependence and abuse ("Drug use and," 2006); 56 percent of state, 45 percent of federal, and 64 percent of jail inmates as of 2005 were diagnosed with a substantial mental health disorder (“Mental health,” 2006); and it has been reported that a high number of inmates grew up in single-parent homes, were raised with parents or guardians that abused substances themselves, or were victims of sexual and/or physical abuse ("High levels of," 1998). Also, it is estimated that tens of thousands of men in prison do not have beyond a ninth grade education, have never been steadily employed, nor have learned the rudiments of adult life (Renaud, 2002).

With this profile in mind, does it not seem that correctional professionals have been given the daunting task of educating, conditioning, and rehabilitating an enormous population of inmates who, for whatever reason, did not accept or apply any of these principles in the free world? It is important to note that correctional professionals must accomplish the aforementioned tasks while providing for the safety and security of institutions against such odds as aggravated assaults, gang violence and security threat groups, sexual assaults, and general non-compliance from the inmate populations.

It is simply not feasible for correctional institutions alone to be responsible for the successful rehabilitation of offenders; society needs to better connect with the correctional systems in order to better bridge the gap.

When an inmate is released from any correctional facility, he or she will have to face reality in the form of finding employment, supporting themselves and/or family, paying bills, obtaining transportation, acquiring insurance ... the list of necessities can almost be deemed infinite.

What have we rehabilitated or corrected if the inmate is unable to obtain employment due to criminal record? What use are the trades or education the inmate has acquired while incarcerated if they are not afforded the chance to apply them? When the inmate recidivates and recommits crime in order to obtain money or goods, what have we accomplished?

We have simply released an inmate with the inevitability of re-incarceration.

As a collective society, we would certainly reap ample benefits from having inmates released from correctional facilities and joining the workforce. Instead of paying higher taxes for the construction of new correctional facilities and for the housing of more inmates, society could potentially be joined by ex-offenders who would be paying taxes back into the system that they once deprived and exploited by being incarcerated in the first place.

As of right now, I see corrections and “society” as two entirely different realms in which there is only a one way street, and that is from society to corrections. We need roundabouts, U-turns, and travel lanes that can return an individual from corrections back to society in order to succeed with the ideal of rehabilitation.

I am not suggesting that society provide for the every want and need of an ex-offender, but perhaps even minimal participation by society could lower recidivism rates and allow for the successful reintegration of offenders back into the community. Rehabilitation is a term that is used on a daily basis in the world of correction. I would like for the free world to better understand this term and to assist corrections professionals in reaching this elusive goal.


American heritage dictionary . (2014). Retrieved from

United States Department of Justice, (2006). Drug use and dependence, state and federal prisoners, 2004(NCJ 213530). Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics website:

United States Department of Justice, (2006). Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates, 2004(NCJ 213600). Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics website:

United States Department of Justice , (1998). High levels of alcohol and drug dependence common among nation's jail inmates. Retrieved from United States Department of Justice website:

Renaud, A. (2002). Behind the walls : A guide for families and friends of texas prison inmates. College Station, TX, USA : University of North Texas Press

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2021 Corrections1. All rights reserved.