Last Updated 24 Mar 2017

Robert Martinson

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Indeed, the article written by Robert Martinson entitled “What Works? Questions and Answers About Prison Reform” has given much controversy to the application of rehabilitation in relation to recidivism.

The claims of the article written by the team of Martinson, which includes Dr. Doug Lipton as the senior author and Judith Wilks as the co-author, centered on the theme that there is no significant improvement with rehabilitation strategies. This has been widely accepted by both the Left and the Right and became popular as the “Nothing Works!” (Sarre 2).

Both people and institutions have come to think that the findings provided that nothing works for the crime offenders are something that should be accepted and is a fact (Sarre 2). Thus, it is until now that the claims of Martinson, despite two decades have passed is something that has been held by public agencies involved (Sarre 5).

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Despite the fact that people have already taken this fact with open arms, there are things which might have been left before Martinson and the authors could speak to clarify the findings further. The conclusions may be of significance but to every research, there are limitations and problems that should be realized together with this. Indeed, the conclusions of Martinson that strategies of rehabilitation employed are not as effective would require a deeper understanding that it may be for a particular group of people and that the limitations would have to be considered for the conclusions rendered.

It could be said that the phrase “nothing works” is not the conclusion that the authors would want to convey for their study. It is not in its entirety that they would want this to be the message. In fact, it is only a partial of this because as they mentioned “... with few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism” and “our present strategies … cannot overcome, or even appreciably reduce, the powerful tendencies of offenders to continue in criminal behavior” (as qtd in Sarre 2). It is to be noted that there is the phrase “few and isolated exceptions” and “our present strategies” which would require some note that there is a hope that rehabilitation is concluded to be still there, just have to be improved or searched.

Before Martinson passed away, he claimed that the some treatment programs do have an effect and these are on “individual psychotherapy, group counseling, intensive supervision, and what we have called individual/help (aid, advice, counseling)” (as qtd in Sarre 4). This could be seen as a parallel point to the phrases “few and isolated exceptions” and “our present strategies.”

A possible explanation that may be given for such is a phrase written by Sarre as “the burial of rehabilitation as an aim of sentencing appears to have occurred before its death had even been announced” (5). People have rushed into conclusions before the authors were given the chance to explain further the study or to conduct several researches more to confirm if this is for the general population.

The negative picture associated with the criminal offenders would likewise give further strength to the ideas received by the population. The careful publication of researches should be made in the future should be observed and the constant challenge to ideas presented with a critical mind and eyes should be maintained.

Work Cited

Sarre, Rick. Beyond “What Works?” A 25 Year Jubilee Retrospective of Robert Martinson. Paper presented at the History of Crime, Policing and Punishment Conference convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology in conjunction with Charles Sturt University and held in Canberra, 9-10 December 1999. 8 April 2008 [].

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