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Stay in Faith, A better life is on the horizon

Social Justice Blog

Social Justice Blog

As the pendulum swings: Dan Pacholke explains the shifts of prison reform from rehabilitative to punitive to cultural change --

Posted on August 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Phelps (2011) summarizes the shifts from rehabilitation to punitive prisons as follows: In the 1940’s prisons focused on teaching prisoners to be productive as a means of rehabilitation. Next, during the 1950’s through the 1970’s the trends was to use individualized assessment and treatment to reform prisoners; then return them to society as law abiding citizens. However, Martinson’s Report in 1974 proposed that prison reform did not work; hence the beginning of imposing harsher sentences without the goal of rehabilitation. Martinson’s discredited the goal of rehabilitation of prisoners. In the 1980’s the law and order ‘war on crime’ movement was set into the political agenda. Calling for longer sentences, mandatory time for certain crimes, and drastic penalties for repeat offenders.


You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content." target="_blank">Pacholke begins his TED Talk  summarizing some disparaging facts of the population and demographics of our current prisons. Besides the tremendous numbers of Hispanic and African American imprisoned in today prison system. He also noted that there are more African-Americans imprisoned then there were during slavery in 1850. He briefly provides an overview of the shifts in paradigm from rehabilitating to warehousing of prisoners. He goes on to summarize a university research partnership program which has drastically benefited the prison population in Washington State. This cultural change is reflected in other current prisoner reform programs such as the morality reformation through Bible Study put into effect at Angola State Penitentiary which has resulted in a “85 percent reduction in violence” (Earhart, 2014 p 341). Earhart proposes that “the only way to increase the effectiveness of prisons and the probability of releasing good citizens is to change prison culture” (p 330). Pacholke's talks provides hope that the department of corrections has come to recognize the benefits of  positive cultural changes within prisons with the hope of successful rehabilitation of reentry into society.




Earhart, J. (2014). Overcoming isolation: a college program challenges prison culture through engagement. St. Louis University Public Law Review, 33(2), 329-341.


Phelps, M. S. (2011). Rehabilitation in the Punitive Era: The Gap Between Rhetoric and Reality in U.S. Prison Programs. Law & Society Review, 45(1), 33-68. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5893.2011.00427.x


All rights reserved Copyright © 2014 Jamillah M. Grant

Categories: Reducing Recidivism