Why Rehabilitation Is Important For Society by Faith Spear

Society puts people in prison and expects them to reintegrate after their sentence and not reoffend. But recidivism is high because often the root cause of offending is not addressed.



Rehabilitation can be described as restoring, rebuilding, or repairing and in the context of those that have spent time in prison a means of re-joining society and hopefully being accepted, but that’s not always the case.

But what if they don’t want to be “rehabilitated” or don’t see the need for it? This is when questions arise such as:

  • Can true rehabilitation exist, if so what does it look like?
  • Does ‘rehabilitation’ force a way of life onto people that we deem ‘acceptable’?
  • Does our lifestyle fit the mould that we expect of those that have offended and ‘need to be rehabilitated’?


We must ask ourselves if we really want to give people a 2nd,3rd…chance or whether we as a society are too punitive to allow people to move forward with their lives.

So, society can and does hinder rehabilitation by placing certain requirements upon those that have broken the law that may not be relevant and therefore putting unnecessary pressures on them.

What we as part of society expect, could we even live up to and could it be said we are setting people up to fail so we can say “I told you so”?

It is too easy to recall over minor issues such as lateness to appointments or forgetfulness when we all fall foul of these from time to time. Making those expectations so high we could almost see rehabilitation as a form of control or conformity to a norm that many would not recognise.

For some picking up where they left off is not an option due to the nature of the crime, family circumstances or health.

But if we build a barrier to those who pose no threat to society which prevents them from re-joining their work sector then are we continuing to punish?

I have seen the crushing stigma that many live under on release; the failure of a system that is meant to be there for them beyond the gate, the lack of accommodation, the difficulties of finding work, the list goes on.


From the wings to the workplace: the route to reducing reoffending

Recently David Gauke the Secretary of State for Justice said:
“…I want more employers to look past an offender’s conviction to their future potential.

How do we do that? Well, we do it by working more closely with employers, so they open their eyes to the benefits of hiring ex-offenders…”



Sounds all well and good, however, the stigma of a criminal record can be a barrier to even getting an interview. As Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock states:

“The current criminal record disclosure has multiple, harsh consequences and damaging effects on individuals, in particular it deters people from applying for employment and for those that do apply it brings high levels of stress, anxiety and feelings of shame and stigma. It acts as an additional sentence that often runs for life. It desperately needs reform”




Erwin James
So long as any society has a system that lets people out of prison, it is in everyone’s interests that they are let out in better shape than they were when they went in…

Is it time for society to think differently towards people who find themselves in prison and as Erwin James (The Guardian, 2013) succinctly wrote:

“…however unpalatable it may be to some, the fact is prisoners are still people, and if we want them to have any respect for society when they get out we need to be mindful of their dignity as fellow human beings” (Erwin James, The Guardian 2013)





Written by Faith Spear, former member of the Independent Monitoring Board for prisons. Faith was a prison monitor who eventually blew the whistle on conditions inside English and Welsh prisons. She was ousted from the IMB as a result.


You can read more about her thought and work on her blog:




Andrew Stanley Hatton

Rehabilitation does not happen by wishing it.
Incrementally the prison service allowed more from outside in and then in 1967 full Prison Welfare Departments staffed by seconded probation officers.
Why probation officers, I suppose because over-time employing well-honed social work skills they were being able to engage with convicts who chose to be on probation and agree to meet with a probation officer and the people first hand – magistrates and judges saw the results were more good than bad. then parole began and that worked, but gradually, gradually, probation workers have been withdrawn or reduced in number alongside other staff and so that whole raft of influence has been weakened.
I have first-hand experience of this – as a probation officer trainee at the University of Liverpool (1973-1975) thinking that although I was training to, mostly, work in the community, the back drop was constantly how could a convict avoid prison, sometimes for a second or third or more time.
We were asked to choose practice placements – firstly I ended up as a part-time assistant social worker – two days a week – the rest at lectures, at a social service department – just as the Seebohm Report was beginning to take hold in the new SSDs. Next, they wanted to put me in a probation office, but I said – no thanks – make it a prison – and being a creative person with many contacts, the Course Leader, Clare Morris ( she wrote one book – about literature for social workers) fixed it and I did three or four months, mostly part time at Appleton Thorn, near Warrington.
It was brilliant, I got to experience from the visitors room how it feels to be a separated family member, and much more – those experiences are still within me today,
Many probation clients would answer my question – about what do you really want – say something about just being normal – with the stress on – just – the start was to help them work out what their normal was and discuss to what extent it included ducking and diving when the police were near. These discussions do not happen to a script but out of relationships.
For rehabilitation to thrive – relationships need to flourish – we all know that – but prisoners are more like us than the media try to represent them – what works for us outside prison – mostly works for them.
I could go on and talk about the blight of our age – sex offenders – sex a normal part of animal behaviour – yet we deny the animal in us and then wonder when some people get it disastrously wrong – they still are mostly normal, more or less, to start with. As the Circles of Support and Accountability scheme has proven even serious sex-offenders can successfully be enabled to live normally without reoffending, even if they have behaved extremely unsociably in the past – but it takes skill and care from well trained and supported workers and good willing volunteers to achieve these things – we need to create those opportunities in our prisons.

Mark Leech

As the Editor of The Prisons Handbook, I know a thing or two about prisons.
For me the fundamental question is whether in expecting prisons to rehabilitate offenders we are asking too much of them?
Jails are full of people today who come from high-crime, inner-city, housing estates with their poor opportunities, drug and alcohol misuse, gang and gun cultures, unemployment, school exclusions, poor parenting, where crime is expected not condemned – in expecting our prisons to rehabilitate offenders are we asking too much if when they are released we throw them back into the same toxic environment that we took them out of?
In today’s prison world of overcrowding, staff shortages, budget cuts, record levels of drugs, violence, suicides and self harm, is it realistic to expect a prison to put right in 12 months what has taken 20 years to go wrong?
Having politicians who tell lies for a living doesn’t help either, and although I read the MOJ press releases promising investment here and there, usually grudgingly, last minute, always piecemeal and in relation to searing criticisms from the Prisons Inspectorate; who really believes their promises?
I don’t.
Politicians need to remember the story of the boy who cried ‘Wolf” – the reality is that people don’t believe liars – even when they’re telling the truth.

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