Prison Rehabilitation

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Prisons are not only places of punishment but of rehabilitation. However, studies show that only 20% of all U.S. prisons have rehabilitation programs that shift the mentality toward inmates from penal deterrence to healing.

Results reveal that only 1 in 5 of over 7,000 correctional facilities in the country offer cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy is an effective psychological treatment in rehabilitation programs to help prisoners.

This article discusses the importance of rehabilitation programs in U.S. prisons. It also tackles the different proposals that prison facilities can implement to improve the rehabilitative aspect of correctional facilities.

Furthermore, this piece shows how crucial the integration of rehabilitation concepts is in penalties imposed on prisoners behind bars and after release.

If you need information about the different corrective programs available in U.S. prisons, you can visit Our website provides access to more than 7,000 jails, prisons, and penitentiaries nationwide.

What Are Some Rehabilitation Programs?

pexels alex green 5699431The U.S. criminal justice system uses rehabilitation programs to help the convicted regain their lives lost in crime. The primary focus of these programs is to reduce recidivism in the growing prison population in the United States.

Recidivism is the tendency of a previously incarcerated individual to relapse into criminal behavior after release. Post-release recidivism is one of the pressing issues that the criminal justice system aims to resolve through rehabilitation programs.

Each state has its roster of rehabilitation programs offered to people deprived of liberty.

For example, California offers the following programs:

1. In-prison programs: The California prison system provides these programs for incarcerated individuals.

a. Offender activity groups

i.  Arts in corrections

ii. Innovative programming grants

b. Educational programs

i.  Adult education

ii. California Identification Card Program

c. Treatment programs

i.  Cognitive behavioral treatment for sex offenders

ii. Cognitive behavioral therapy or interventions

2. After-prison programs: These are post-release programs in local communities that help ex-inmates gain life skills, get housing assistance, and help in family reunification, to name a few.

a. Outpatient and drop-in centers

i.  Caltrans Parolee Work Crew Program

ii. Day reporting center and community-based coalition

b. Pre-release community programs

i.  Male Community Reentry Program (MCRP)

ii. Alternative Custody Program (ACP)

Level Setting

Almost half of the people behind bars in the United States are convicted of violent offenses. Next in the line are crimes linked to property, drug-related crimes, and other offenses with incarceration penalties.

Looking into the data, you can see patterns that might indicate an underlying problem in the currency prison system.

Examples of patterns are the following:

  • Most incarcerated people in America are disadvantaged individuals and men under 40.
  • Prisoners have limited education, are from minority backgrounds, and have drug or alcohol addictions.
  • Prisoners also have physical and mental illnesses and little to no work experience.

In addition, many agree that getting imprisoned has a toll on the prisoner’s physical and mental well-being. The difficulty of prison life can affect their chances of successful reintegration when the time comes for their release.

Everyone concerned with this country’s prison population must be on the same page. They all must agree that public safety is the foremost reason for imprisoning violent people. However, everyone must also agree that prisons are not only places of punishment but also of reform.

Experts concerned with this issue have proposed a few programs that aim to improve the rehabilitative effect of America’s correctional system.

Implementing the following proposals may lower recidivism rates and reduce reoffending cases that blow up the prison population of this country’s prison system.

Short-Term Reforms

Prison reforms are complex decisions made over time. It takes political will and congressional allocation to make things happen in this sector of society. One short-term reform is to improve the state’s ability to spend on enhancing prisons under its jurisdiction.

Craft the Transforming Prisons Act

A transformative prisons act can help change prisons and their prisoners by providing new funding to the state’s Department of Corrections. Currently, the Department of Justice, through the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), provides federal funding to state and local jurisdictions via grants.

The combination of the new funding source and the grants from the BJA can support the reforms needed in America’s prisons. More than 7,000 correctional facilities in the United States can benefit greatly from this additional funding.

Once funding is available, prisons can focus on improving the following areas to rehabilitate incarcerated people.

  • Transform prisons into becoming more just and humane for all prisoners.
  • Train group facilitators and correctional staff to handle cognitive communities.
  • Broaden therapeutic programming to promote pro-social behaviors.
  • Conduct programs like family engagement workshops, anger management, and other rehabilitative services.

Speed Up the Deincarceration Initiated During the Pandemic

Mass incarceration has been the leading cause of overcrowding in many of the country’s state prisons and local jails. To resolve this problem, “decarceration” should be the next goal for America’s congested prisons.

During the COVID-19 crisis, an intensive effort was undertaken to reintegrate prisoners into society. Some states were bold enough to approve the early release of older inmates, especially those with health problems.

The COVID crisis revealed that advanced-age prisoners returning to society due to health conditions were less likely to commit crimes after release. Furthermore, the research shows that the reintegration of senior adult prisoners into society can ease the strain in the correctional system.

Medium-Term Reforms

Medium-term reforms are crucial to start a lasting change in the correctional system. These reforms require a somewhat lengthier period to see a difference.

Promote a Rehabilitation-Oriented Approach in State Prisons

At this stage, the aim is to transform the corrective programs for prisoners and the prison itself.

The transformation of prisons should be evidence-based therapeutic programming and proper documentation of corrections staff and incarcerated individuals.

One area that needs revisiting is the “good-time” policies so that prisoners have an incentive to maintain good behavior while in prison.

Enhance the Utilization of Community Sanctions

The COVID-19 pandemic showed that “decarceration” is possible, especially for senior adult prisoners with poor health.

For decades, mass incarceration contributed to overcrowded prisons in America. The stringent policies of mass incarceration that put people behind bars resulted in an over-reliance on incarceration to resolve criminality.

As mentioned above, incarceration’s goal should not only focus on punishment but focus on rehabilitation.

One proposal to resolve this concern is to strengthen the development of community sanctions, which loosens the grip of prisons as the sole place for correctional rehabilitation.

States must develop rural communities where most prisoners come from and where released inmates return.

Long-Term Reforms

Now that the short-term and medium-term reform goals have been identified, it’s time to seek long-term solutions to lower incarceration rates in the country.

Embrace Rehabilitative and Restorative Models of Community Justice

Public safety and health goals can be done through Community Justice Centers. These centers are for people undergoing crisis due to mental health issues, family trauma, and substance abuse.

Utilizing a Community Justice Center can help de-escalate situations without involving the criminal justice system. Through the de-escalation policy, crisis intervention helps resolve problems and achieve better outcomes.

Community Justice Centers are nongovernmental groups that assist in resolving crises without the need for intervention from the police or the courts. The diversion reduces the stress on the justice system, which sometimes is not equipped to handle every situation.

Foster Collaborations Between Correctional Agencies and Researchers

Corrections agencies and researchers must work together to develop new organizational methods. The partnership between these groups is beneficial in identifying research projects that can solve problems that prisons and prison staff face.

The Importance of Prison Rehabilitation Programs Before and After Release

The prisoner’s plight doesn’t end after their release. Newly released prisoners may face problems immediately after they leave any U.S. prison.

Once a person gets entangled with the criminal justice system and has a criminal record, landing jobs becomes a challenge. Other hindrances to rehabilitation include failing evaluations for housing assistance and other benefits provided by the government.

If ex-prisoners do not receive post-release support, they will quickly feel the collateral problems associated with having a criminal history. Prisons must employ rehabilitation programs for prisoners, not only before release but after release, to avoid this problem.

The Punitive Turn

The 1970s saw the start of the mass incarceration phase in the U.S. criminal justice system. Many inmates enter the prison system, where rehabilitation takes a back seat to a punitive turn in fighting against crime.

The tough-on-crime stance resulted in explosive growth in the U.S. prison population. As a result, the country now has almost two million people behind bars.

However, the figures don’t end there. More than 3.7 million people are under community supervision (around 2.9 million on probation and 800,000 on parole).

Millions of people are under the direct supervision of the U.S. criminal justice system. All these people need the guidance of rehabilitative services that can lead them toward a renewed life.

The Mentally Ill

One element in incarceration that is often ignored is the fact that many inmates are living with mental illness.

Psychologists are the primary mental health care providers in the country’s prison systems. These experts provide different types of therapy and counseling to resolve the mental struggles of inmates.

However, one of the main problems in resolving mental health problems in prisons is that the current prison system can’t quickly implement the programs suggested by psychologists.

One of the main reasons why specialized programs are not easily implemented is the lack of resources to fund their development.

Unfortunately, corrections are focused on punishment, while psychology gears toward rehabilitation. These two concepts need delicate balancing.

What Happens When Prisons Prioritize Rehabilitation Over Punishment?

Suppose the prison system in the United States suddenly focuses on rehabilitation over punishment. In that case, the prisons in the country may become centers of hope and not despair.

Let’s say you’re a person in America who has gone against the law. Once you’re apprehended and arrested by law enforcement, you’re brought to justice and receive your penalty as ordered by the judge.

However, there are two ways to answer for your crime in America: go to prison as a punishment, or undergo rehabilitation like being placed under parole or probation.

Punishment is a harsh way of making criminals realize their wrongdoings and force them to change. However, rehabilitation allows criminals to change their behavior through a soft reintegration process into society.

Sadly, in state and federal prisons, punishment is the focus. Violent offenders inside prison may experience solitary confinement, which many now believe to be more torturous than rehabilitative. Many think that this has to change.

Prison Reform: Reducing Recidivism by Strengthening the Federal Bureau of Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) continues to enforce programs to reduce recidivism and ensure public safety.

The reforms ensure that the correctional system targets the cause of criminality. Once the core of criminal behavior is removed, lowering recidivism in people released from prison is attainable.

If the BOP strengthens its anti-recidivism programs through prison reform, the reincarceration loop that criminals in relapse experience may finally end. According to the Department of Justice, one of the best ways to prevent crimes is by reducing recidivism rates.

Recent and Ongoing Reforms to Reduce Recidivism

The BOP is constantly working to improve the prison systems in the country in line with the philosophy of reducing recidivism to combat crime.

Here are some ongoing reforms to reduce the likelihood of ex-inmates returning to crime.

  • Identify an inmate’s criminogenic needs: The BOP must ensure the inmate’s criminogenic assessment or the cause for doing the crime at the start of incarceration.
  • Build a school district in federal prisons: Research shows that inmates who underwent prison education have a 43% likelihood of reducing their chances of recidivism.
  • Include tablets for prison education: The BOP tries to implement customized tablets for prisoners for a blended education model, which combines online education and gadgets.
  • Support the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program: The Second Chance Pell is a program of the Department of Education for eligible incarcerated Americans. The grant provides an opportunity for previously incarcerated individuals to pursue postsecondary education.

The grant assists in covering tuition, books, and supplies. The program also guides participants in seeking other educational opportunities.

How Some U.S. Prisons Are Based on Dignity Instead of Dehumanization

The prison system in the United States may have started by focusing on degrading, alienating, and disempowering through punishment. The country’s prison practices are built on a long history of racism and discrimination.

America’s prisons must start building up the dignity of incarcerated people. The country’s prison system must redefine principles that underpin severe sanctions like deprivation of liberty.

If you need a handy site to access over 7,000 correctional facilities in the U.S., visit Our website provides helpful information on prisons and jail nationwide, including their programs and activities.


1. What are the different types of criminal rehabilitation?

There are three types of criminal rehabilitation:

  • Psychological rehabilitative programs focus on mental and social health. 
  • Occupational-based programs focus on preparing offenders for their reentry into the workforce. 
  • Education-focused programs focus on improving an individual’s skills so that they can succeed in life after release. 

2. How effective is rehabilitation in prisons?

A study on rehabilitation strategies showed that cognitive-behavioral programs in correctional facilities consistently reduce recidivism from 15% to 30% in some cases.

An estimated 600,000 prisoners are released from state and federal prisons every year, but over 50% get reincarcerated. The high recidivism rate shows an underlying problem that can be resolved by prison rehabilitation reform.

3. Is prison supposed to rehabilitate?

Yes, the concept of incarceration, though it may not be that apparent at first, is to rehabilitate an incarcerated person for possible reentry into society in the future.

4. Why do prisons fail to rehabilitate?

Incarceration in the United States may have become so punitive and unpleasant for inmates that it may be one factor that reduces the likelihood of rehabilitation.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the unpleasant state of today’s prisons results from a combination of strict sentencing guidelines, budget shortfalls, and a punitive philosophy of corrections in the country.


  1. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
  2. Practice Profile: Rehabilitation Programs for Adult Offenders
  3. Recidivism
  4. Rehabilitative Programs and Services
  5. Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023
  6. A better path forward for criminal justice: Changing prisons to help people change
  7. PRISON REFORM: Reducing Recidivism by Strengthening the Federal Bureau of Prisons
  8. Rethinking prison as a deterrent to future crime

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