Criminal Rehabilitation: Programs, Statistics & Definition

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Criminal rehabilitation is part of many prison programs. The idea being that not everyone is just born bad, but instead they are environmentally conditioned to make bad choices which can be fixed.

Nature Vs. Nurture

Criminal rehabilitation is based on the ideas that people are not inherently bad. Instead they are taught to make wrong decisions by environmental influences. This is the classic nature verses nurture argument.

Are people born bad or are they made that way due to poverty, bad parenting, or abuse? Studies have shown how nurturing (environmental influence) affect crime rates, the list below are the most significant factors:

  • Alcohol and drugs - 80% of inmates use drugs and/or alcohol both before and during incarceration. Drugs and alcohol impair decision-making, and is the root cause for many arrests. This is a serious issue in prisons, and makes it more difficult for inmates to stop using when they get out.

  • Poverty - Not having money can make certain people turn to theft or dealing drugs in order to survive. Unfortunately, this is a vicious circle. After they get arrested and go to prison, they have a criminal record, which makes it difficult for them to find a reliable job once they are released, which forces them into criminal pursuits yet again.

  • Bad or Absent Parenting - Kids that have little to no role models or family will try to find an accepting group elsewhere, this is why so many kids get into gangs. Gangs then promote violence, theft, and drugs, but since they are family even kids that would not naturally choose those crimes are not involved.

  • Mental Illness - There are many mental illnesses that can lead to criminal activity, such as schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, if an inmate is only being punished for their crime, they are not getting any help for the underlying mental illness that may have caused their incarceration in the first place.

  • Education - The lack of education has two influences. First, limited education can cause poverty, because better paying jobs require advanced degrees. Second, a lack of education also directly contributes to committing crimes.

These environmental influences obviously influence whether a person commits a crime. So what options are available for rehabilitation in order to prevent repeat offenses and how effective are they?


Criminal rehabilitation is essentially the process of helping inmates grow and change, allowing them to separate themselves from the environmental factors that made them commit a crime in the first place. The idea is to treat each of the major contributing factors in order to help give an inmate the ability to live a crime-free life after they are released from prison.

One of the biggest challenges for inmates is being institutionalized, living in prison so long that the no longer know how to function in outside world. This makes some of them commit crimes so they can go back to prison where they know how to survive. So what rehabilitation programs have been created to help inmates readjust to society and remove themselves from all of the environmental risk factors?

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