First do no harm: a look at correctional policies and programs today

MacKenzie, Doris
March 2013
Journal of Experimental Criminology;Mar2013, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p1
Academic Journal
Objectives: This paper reviews the historical changes in correctional policies and the impact these changes have had on the operations of corrections and correctional programs. Social changes and theoretical perspectives moved corrections away from a focus on rehabilitation to programs characterized by deterrence, incapacitation, and control. Similarly, theoretical criminology encouraged corrections to move away from rehabilitation towards programs designed to provide social opportunities such as employment and housing for offenders. This paper examines whether these changes in policies and programs have been effective in reducing recidivism. The question is: What works in corrections? Methods: This paper reviews the research examining the impact of correctional policies and programs on the later criminal activities of offenders and delinquents. Research using systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and the Maryland method scores is used to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of various types of programs, management strategies, and policies. Results: Research demonstrates programs based on deterrence, incapacitation and increased control do not reduce the future criminal activities of offenders and delinquents. Nor have programs targeting social opportunities such as employment and housing been effective in reducing recidivism. The most effective programs target individual-level change in thinking and information processing. Conclusions: In the search for ways to sanction offenders, U.S. correctional policies and programs using control, deterrence, and incapacitation have harmed individuals and communities. Such programs have not been effective in reducing recidivism. While programs that provide social opportunities for offenders do not necessarily harm offenders neither do they decrease later criminal activities. Effective programs bring about a cognitive transformation in offenders and delinquents. Theorists have begun to develop hypotheses about how and why these transformations are effective. The current emphasis on evidence-based programs, the research evidence on what is effective and the need to reduce the cost of corrections suggest we are on the brink of another paradigm change. Where this will take us is still unclear, but the paradigm will have to address the current problems facing the U.S. correctional systems.


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