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Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds Well, we know that many offenders have lives that are in some way troubled. And we know that in many cases the difficulties which offenders are experiencing in their lives can be closely linked to their offending behaviour. A typical example here would be a person who is addicted to drugs, and who resorts to theft to finance their drug addiction. If we want to have rehabilitation as part of our sentencing plan, then what we are saying is that the sentence which is imposed on an offender should involve opportunities to address the issues which are sitting behind their offending behaviour.

Skip to 0 minutes and 43 seconds The idea is that this is a win-win situation, in that the offender gets the benefit of being rehabilitated, and society, or the public, benefits from the fact that this person is less likely to offend again. So, offenders might benefit from medical support or other therapeutic assistance in some cases. In other cases, rehabilitation might be in the form of education or learning – perhaps an offender will benefit from learning more about the true effects of their offending behaviour. Or perhaps they will benefit from learning or developing skills, which will provide them with opportunities to gain employment, and move away from their offending behaviour.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 seconds The most obvious problem with some rehabilitative measures is that they can be expensive, and as a consequence not all offenders who might benefit from them can access them. Also, sometimes, the way in which sentences are structured makes it difficult to engage in rehabilitative activity. So, where an offender who has a short prison sentence, because they are not around in prison for long, they may not be given the chance to access things like courses or educational opportunities, to help them to avoid reoffending. And it may be that that offender is a repeat offender, and they may turn up again and again in prison, but never for long enough to engage adequately with rehabilitation.

Skip to 1 minute and 59 seconds There is also a more fundamental issue with some instances of rehabilitation, in that it assumes that the problem is the offender and it is the offender who needs to be fixed. So imagine that a homeless person has been criminalised on the basis of their disorderly begging. Let’s say that as part of their sentence they are helped or encouraged to access educational opportunities which will make it possible for them to put in a successful application for housing. One argument is that by focusing on using criminal justice processes – even in a well-motivated way, to help individuals change their difficult circumstances – we overlook the bigger questions of social justice, in this instance, the broader social question of access to housing.

Sentencing: rehabilitation

In this video, Matt Matravers discusses sentencing and rehabilitation. He identifies a number of reasons why rehabilitation might be difficult to implement in practice, and suggests why the concept of rehabilitation itself may be problematic, however well-intentioned its advocates might be.

When you are watching this video, try to reflect on what you know about the other aims of sentencing which we have encountered, namely, desert and deterrence. In what ways are rehabilitative aims similar to and different from those other aims?

Do you find rehabilitation attractive as a sentencing aim? Why (not)?

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This video is from the free online course:

From Crime to Punishment: an Introduction to Criminal Justice

University of York