Makayla West

The act of restoring someone to health or normal life through training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness(Oxford).In a general sense, there are many ways to help rehabilitate someone. Perhaps one of the most common associations with rehabilitation is in regard to institutions for drug addicts. However, the term also plays a significant role in law and crime control. More specifically, it works to help prisoners learn how to become law abiding citizens, so they do not revert back to crime when they are free from prison. Additionally, we often see rehabilitation in law associated and contrasted to the other three philosophies ofpunishment. In order to best understand how law and rehabilitation exist together, one must also understand the other three forms of punishment; retribution, deterrence, and incapacitation. When rehabilitation is discussed in regard to law, it is commonly compared to these other philosophies in order to asses which is the most effective. It is important to know the other philosophies of punishment in order to understand the benefits and disadvantages rehabilitation has in comparison to them.

The Four Philosophies of Punishment

  1. Rehabilitation

This model centers on a view that promotes personal change and the capacity prisoners have to make better decisions. In this model, the belief is that crime results from improper socialization and formation of societal norms and behaviors. Essentially, it is not necessarily the fault of the suspect, rather they are a product of how they were raised. It is thus the duty of the prison system to offer them a chance to be properly educated so they can better fit back into society. In this system, the hope is that the judge determining the sentence will utilize their discretion and account for that suspects upbringing. A lot of times we will see indeterminate sentences, which do not have a fixed release date, rather the prisoner is given a minimum and maximum date of release and is set free when it is believed they have been properly rehabilitated. Typically, this is done by implementing programs in prison that provide incentive to change, education to provide a secure environment, mental health resources, addiction counseling and opportunities to socialize with others(Herbert, lecture). The ultimate goal is to teach individuals proper societal norms and to set them up for success upon their release in order to prevent them from committing future crimes.This is how rehabilitation is intended to not only help the criminals it rehabilitates, but society as well by preventing future crimes committed by the same individual over and over. One powerful way of looking at it is that it helps criminals become less criminal (Law Library). By focusing on those we already know have a tendency to violate the law, we can better prevent repeated offenses and improve society as a whole. This is important to keep in mind as we begin to analyze the other philosophies which have different views on offenders and how to help society.

  • Retribution

In this view, crime represents a harm to society. Inmates are not viewed as evil criminals but are seen as a member of society that must make up for the harm they have caused. This can be done through means like community service, prison jobs or simply by serving time.It is also through this philosophy of punishment that we get the model most commonly used in the state of Washington, the Just Desserts model. This model centers on the notion that the punishment must fit the crime and is based on the total harm done to society. Typically, crimes have a predetermined punishment and as long as the suspect is found guilty, he will receive a sentence based on what is standard for that crime. This is meant to bring out uniform sentencing in which judges have limited use of discretion. Additionally, there is another way in which suspects can be convicted using this model and a term know as restorative justice. Through restorative justice, the victim of the crime is the focus and the punishment for the suspect is determined through negotiations with the victim. Again, this centers on the idea that the punishment must fit the crime and, in some cases, it is best determined by the individual harmed by the crime. This tends to conflict with rehabilitation, as the programs offered through rehabilitation work to make prison life better and more constructive, which deters from the idea of punishment that is key to the retribution model.An example of this conflict that can be seen in Washington state is with life sentence prisoners, whom are often excluded from rehabilitation programs. The severity of their crimes, according to retribution, dictates that they are not deserving of a chance at rehabilitation especially since they will never be able to reenter society. Additionally, through the eyes of the retribution model a life in prison without programs to make the extended stay easier is justified. Any pain inflicted on the inmate is seen as payment for the ways they harmed society(Law Library). However, this does not provide prisoners with a chance to pay back their debt to society in positive ways like we see with rehabilitation. Herbert argues this in his book, Too Easy to Keep, that we can have a retribution model where inmates pay off their debt to society but if helpful ways through rehabilitation programs.

  • Deterrence

At the center of this model is the rational choice theory which states that we are rational beings and behind every decision we make we weigh the pros and cons to see which option is favorable. From this logic stems the function of deterrence, which is to make the con side of committing a crime greater than the pro side in most every case. This is commonly seen in law enforcement and heavy patrolling. By making numerous arrests and strictly enforcing the law, police promote the idea that if you break the law, you will undoubtedly be punished. The more this idea is reinforced, the less likely individuals will be to commit a crime if they are well aware of the designated cons of getting caught. Additionally, this model is made more effective when the punishment to crimes is strict and prison is an extremely undesirable place. This is where we see the model conflict with rehabilitation, which gives opportunities to prisoner and weakens the level of deterrence. The deterrence model sees rehabilitation programs as a reward that only makes people less afraid of committing crimes. The effectiveness of the deterrence model relies crucially on its ability to make punishment appear inevitable and harsh. Due to this, rehabilitation programs within the prison system that make life easier are viewed as damaging to this image. Some who favor the deterrence model view rehabilitation as a means of “coddling criminals”(Law Library).However, this view is short cited and doesn’t account for the important impacts’ rehabilitation has in the long term. Impacts we will see later on as we discuss LEAD.

  • Incapacitation

This is perhaps the most extreme model of the four philosophies of punishment. At the heart of this model is the view that criminals are innately evil and incapable of positive change. It also aims to prevent the possibility of crime through excessively strict law enforcement and patrolling. Once a suspect has been caught, ideally the judge will use no discretion and will punish the individual to the highest extent of the law. This model stems from more ancient beliefs of evil and criminal acts being a sign that someone is innately bad from the start(Herbert, lecture).Historically, we see this is the overtly harsh punishments like hanging and burning that were once very common. These punishments were dealt out with the idea that killing offenders would rid society of their evil presence. As society has progressed, this model of punishment has lost its strength and prevalence. Again, it is fairly easy to see where this model heavily conflicts with rehabilitation seeing as it does not believe criminals are capable of rehabilitation. Rather it abandons all hope of these people being beneficial to society in any way. Also, this model tends to not care what happens once people go to prison, whereas rehabilitation is focused on helping prisoners inside and while transitioning outside. Viewing offenders as simply evil does nothing to help reform them or prevent future crimes, therefor, this philosophy of punishment lacks effectiveness especially when compared to rehabilitation.

A Brief History of Rehabilitation 

Now that the four philosophies of punishment are understood, we can take a look at the history of rehabilitation and how it has competed over the years with the other forms of punishment. Beginning with the colonies still under British rule, at that time incapacitation was the leading philosophy. Criminals were viewed as innately evil and the death penalty was heavily used, along with torture and exile. Following the revolution, the United States sought a form of punishment that encompassed their new revolutionary ideals. Mainly, the Bill of Rights set forth the notion that man was born with certain rights of a political nature. While this did not extend the right of rehabilitation to prisoners, it did produce the ideal that it was best to do so and give them a chance to earn back some of their rights. With that said, rehabilitation at that time did not take on the forms it does today. Instead, prisoners were either separated from each other at all times, or prohibited from speaking to one another. The idea was that this would limit them from further corrupting each other and force them to reflect upon the evil acts they had committed(Rubin, pg. 351). We do not see rehabilitation take on its true form until much later. Briefly, in the 1950’s to the 1970’s, punishment began to take on a more medical view and prisoners were examined and assessed to see what would best help them.More individualized forms of treatment began to surface as a way to confront crime. This model of treatment was referred to as the “rehabilitative ideal” (Phelps). This was a crucial time frame for rehabilitation as this is where we see it become a philosophy of punishment.Unfortunately, this only lasted until the 1980s and 1990s when mass panic over the crime problem of the United States led to incapacitation and deterrence taking a more central role yet again. The public view of law breakers at this time also shifted from poor white Americans to rural black Americans (Page).The media and politicians capitalized on this and heavily covered the crime problem, perpetuating these negative stereotypes of who should be pictured when thinking of a criminal. Legislators also used this to their advantage, by taking on a hard on crime agenda they gained public support from the working class as well as upper class. It was in this time frame that we see the heavy connection between race and crime more clearly emerge. Additionally, we see the loss of funding for rehabilitation programs like Pell Grants and prisoners’ access to higher education. Overall, this shift in public support and manipulation from legislators damaged society and the beneficial use of rehabilitation.Currently, the preferred philosophy for punishment varies depending on the state. As mentioned above, Washington prefers retribution and the just desserts model, but it also has many rehabilitation programs in place. 

Rehabilitation in Washington State, the Creation of LEAD

Washington State has many different rehabilitation programs. Including, one of its newest revolutionary programs know as LEAD, which stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.This program is the first known pre-booking diversion program for low-level narcotic and prostitution charges created in the U.S.  After years of collaboration with multiple different organizations, LEAD was finally launched in 2011 and has proven to be quite successful. The protocol of the program was designed to rely heavily on the discretion of its officers. Following an arrest, it is up to the officer to decide whether or not to refer someone to a LEAD case manager. Upon referral, a LEAD case manager arrives and conducts an initial screening of the individual and typically custody of the suspect is released to the case worker by the arresting officer.Charges may still be forwarded to the city but in most cases as long as the individual completes an initial screening and full intake within 30 days those charges are not filed (Herbert, pg. 14). The key to this program is that the case workers chosen are very hands on and capable of being accessible to their clients. Additionally, the program seeks to create individually tailored assistance plans that can include housing, treatment, education, job training, transportation, small business counseling and child care as well as other services(Herbert, pg. 15). Furthermore, LEAD does not require its participants to be sober, rather its focuses on overall harm reduction and recognizes that overcoming addiction is a tenuous process. Ultimately, the program was created as a response the drug issues in Seattle with the goal of improving public safety and order. LEAD began here in Seattle and since then the innovative program has expanded to include other cities ranging from Albany, NY to Santa Fe, New Mexico with hope of further expansion. It is programs like this that help show just how effective rehabilitation can be in preventing future crimes. For example, a study done to evaluate LEAD found that the odds of a LEAD client being sentenced to prison within the first year of enrollment was 87 percent lower compared to non-LEAD clients. While the program is still young, there is hope that expanding it to other cities will help with crime reduction and be an effective tool for law enforcement. 

Rehabilitation and LSJ 200

            Rehabilitation is discussed mainly in LSJ 200 as one of the four philosophies of punishment.It is stressed that in order to understand law enforcement one must understand the ideals behind the different forms of punishment that govern society and police procedures. Additionally, there are a few readings that mention rehabilitation and assess its effectiveness.Within the course packet there is a reading, called Policing Social Marginality, that discuss different police approaches, including coercive benevolence that is centered on rehabilitation.Coercive benevolence essentially means that when suspects are apprehended, depending on their crime, they have the choice to either enter a 20-day rehabilitation program or serve jail time. In this specific example it proves to be fairly ineffective as most participants quickly drop out. This reading also discusses LEAD as well as its benefits and overall effectiveness in comparison to other police approaches like aggressive patrol and coercive benevolence. Professor Herbert of LSJ 200 is a co-author of this text, so it is advised that students read it carefully.Furthermore, there is another reading in the course packet, Punishment and Society, that discusses the differing views on Pell Grants for prisoners during the 1990s when, as mentioned above, there was a mass public fear over the crime problem in the United States. Most important for LSJ students to keep in mind when reading these sources is the overall effectiveness of rehabilitation and how it is used in law enforcement at the various levels. For those hoping to obtain a degree in law, understanding rehabilitation as well as the other philosophies of punishment is important in understanding crime and crime control as a whole. It helps to know what options prisoners have after sentencing as well as what tools our legislators use to prevent crime and better society.

Further Reading

If you would like to learn more about LEAD, visit their webpage: 


  1. Herbert, Steve. LSJ 200, 30 January 2019, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.   


  • Herbert, Steve, et al. Policing Social Marginality: Contrasting Approaches, Law &   

                 Social Inquiry, Journal of the American Bar Foundation, vol. 2, 2017. 

  • Esin, Michael, and Jacob Dawn Daniel. “Rehabilitation – What Is 

                Rehabilitation?” William Night, Lifeboat, and Passengers – JRank Articles,        

         Accessed 11         

                 February 2019.     

  • Page, Joshua. Eliminating the Enemy, University of California, Berkley, Punishment &  

    Society, 2004. 11      

    February 2019.

  • Phelps, Michelle S. “Rehabilitation in the Punitive Era: The Gap between Rhetoric and       

    Reality in U.S. Prison Programs” Law & society review vol. 45,1 (2011): 33-68. 

  • “Rehabilitation | Definition of Rehabilitation in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford        

                  Dictionaries, 31 January 2019.

  • Rubin, Edward L. “The Inevitability of Rehabilitation.” Law & Inequality: A Journal of         

     Theory and Practice, vol. 19, Issue 2, Article 5, 2001,      

     Accessed 31 January 2019