The Dubious Track Record of Offender Rehabilitation


Is an honest discussion about offender rehabilitation programs possible?

The collective data indicate that programs for offenders either don’t work, or make things worse, or have very limited results.

If we support offender rehabilitation, we need to question current results. We need to demand better answers. If we don’t, nothing will change.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.


President Trump advocated for offender rehabilitation in his State of the Union speech.

From The Crime Report

“….President Trump cited prisoner reentry in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, but it was only a one-line mention. This year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance,” the president said. Conservative reform advocates made much out of that one sentence.”

“Mark Holden of Koch Industries said Trump’s remark was “very encouraging and we look forward to continuing to work with the White House, the administration, members of Congress and states to make this vision a reality nationwide,” reports Reason.”

“We are incredibly pleased that President Trump took time this evening to recognize the importance of reforming our corrections policies, said Brooke Rollins, President and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.”

“Pat Nolan of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, called Trump’s comment “a milestone in the growing conservative movement to apply conservative principles to our justice system. Our reforms reflect our values of accountability for both offenders as well as government agencies, support for crime victims, treating each person with dignity and offering a second chance.” The Crime Report.

My question, do offender rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism?

Do Offender Programs Work?

I support programs for offenders. Most in the criminological community support programs. I have repeatedly asked if society wants people coming out of prison to be free of mental health and substance abuse issues. Who would say no to that?



  1. I agree with your assessment but my response is particularly geared to drug treatment/diversion efforts. The well-known problem with most of these is simply this: the user cannot be successful longterm if he/she returns to the same basic neighborhood and friends as before. There are too many “triggers” that cause them to re-offend.

    • Hi Bob: Your comments are spot on. But is there data that suggests that moving him creates better results? BYW, we used to do this in Job Corps.

      The article is not against programs. I simply state that the results have been disappointing and we need to do something (i.e., a national conference or research agenda) to address this.

      But until we do, few will fund dubious results, which is what we have now. The article addresses our options.

      Best, Len.

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