As early as 1974, criminal rehabilitation programs were already considered ineffective as far as reducing recidivism (or the act of a released convict to return to crime) is concerned.
This belief was brought about by the fact that majority of the studies which were conducted for the purpose of evaluating the efficacy of various rehabilitation programs showed almost no positive or meager positive results. In an article entitled “What Works—Questions and Answers About Prison Reform,” Robert Martinson, a sociologist, cited statistics which proved that many of the rehabilitation programs being implemented in the country’s prisons failed to show encouraging results.
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He, however, registered some reservations, citing the poor methodology being employed in such studies at the time. According to him, it was also possible that because “our research [was] so bad,” the correct results of the studies were just not properly indicated.
This perception somehow changed during the 1980s with the advent of “meta-analysis” – a new statistical technique which utilized larger sample sizes than those used by previous studies. This technique did manage to show that “vocational, educational, behavior modification and other programs” indeed had modest results which ranged from 10 – 15 percent reduction in recidivism (Himelson, 2008).
Religious Rehabilitation Programs
At almost the same time that criminal rehabilitation programs were losing their credibility, the Humaita Prison in Brazil was being turned into a religious community. The practice caught the attention of Byron Johnson who was then the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Research and Urban Civil Society because it gained international recognition. He found out that the day-to-day operations of the Humaita Prison were turned over to religious volunteers who “saturated the prison environment with religious programming and instruction.”
In addition, family visits and spiritual mentoring were promoted. These innovative practices, Johnson learned, resulted to a recidivism rate of 16 percent after three years. This was much lower when compared to the recidivism rate of 36 percent which was registered by a different prison which offered vocational training to its inmates (Himelson, 2008).
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