The Purpose of Prison – Rehabiliation

Earlier I talked a little bit about the punishment portion of prison, so today I want to look at the rehabilitation aspect. To be clear, there are those who believe that prison is not meant to be a place of rehabilitation; this article is going to take on the issue as if it is a part of what the prison system should be doing, and examine whether it is happening or not. Once we’ve established a bit more about what the purpose is behind rehabilitation is we may later explore whether it should be a fundamental part of prison.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “rehabilitate” the following way:

1a :  to restore to a former capacity :  reinstate


1b :  to restore to good repute :  reestablish the good name of

2a :  to restore to a former state (as of efficiency, good management, or solvency) <rehabilitate slum areas>


2b :  to restore or bring to a condition of health or useful and constructive activity

The common theme here is clearly restoration, as every single definition includes the word “restore”. Apparently, one who is rehabilitated is restored to their former status, to their former reputation, and to the ability to be useful or constructive. This restoration could apply in a few different elements – personal, familial, and societal.
Personal restoration would allow one to process the feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse that often accompany criminal behavior. Whether the sentence is 1 year or 50 years, individuals will arguably be more motivated to rejoin society and seek to live positively if they have truly understood and dealt with the underlying causes of their previous behavior, and if they have forgiven themselves and truly sought to move forward.
Familial restoration would aid in healing broken relationships and hurts that arise in the families who are left behind when someone goes to prison. Often there are parents, siblings, spouses, children, and extended family that experience a wide range of difficult emotional and social pressures due to their loved ones incarceration. Feelings of loss, betrayal, shame, and guilt are all common, and often there is little help for families of convicts as they adjust to this new version of their lives. Although the rehabilitation and restoration process would take time, and perhaps not become complete during the prison sentence, there are many ways that programming could help both parties process these difficult feelings.
Societal restoration would enable the ex-convict to reenter society with the feeling of having repaid the debt they owe to society, and with the ability to actually reenter this society and become an active, engaged part of it. All too often released inmates of wonderful intentions of becoming contributing members, but when the reality of limited housing, education, and employment opportunities – all hinged on their ex-convict status – becomes more of a burden than they can bear, they revert to old ways. As a society we must learn to find ways to engage and welcome these citizens back into communities that could so greatly benefit from the return of their mothers, fathers, siblings, and children.
As a nation that is incarcerating an extremely high percentage of our citizens, we must come to terms with the fact that, once released, these people will need help reentering lives that were stripped away from them for years, and that the best rehabilitation program will be one that starts from day one of the sentence.



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