Public Support for Correctional Rehabilitation: Change or Consistency?

Francis T. Cullen, University of Cincinnati
Jennifer Pealer, University of Cincinnati
Bonnie Fisher, University of Cincinnati
Brandon K. Applegate, University of Central Florida
Shannon A. Santana, University of Cincinnati

For three decades, "get tough" thinking has shaped American correctional policy. One common justification for this sustained effort to increase the punishment of offenders is that these policies reflect "what the public wants." It is often assumed that public attitudes have shifted in a decidedly punitive direction, so much so that support for rehabilitation is virtually non-existent. Based on a 2001 national survey of 327 respondents, we question this commonly held view. Although members of the public endorse punishment goals, they also express high support for rehabilitation. Thus, citizens are more likely to embrace rehabilitation as a goal of prisons than either "punish" or "protect society." Support for juvenile rehabilitation and for early intervention programs is especially high. These results suggest that the public wants the correctional system both to punish and rehabilitate offenders. Further, the consistency of support for rehabilitation over time indicates that rehabilitation is a core cultural belief that is unlikely to dissipate in the time ahead.

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Updated 05/20/2006