chapter  4
Attacking Rehabilitation
Pages 36

Successive generations of reformers advocating the rehabilitative ideal have repeatedly been successful in spawning a sense of confidence and optimism that the lawless could be cor-

rected and made law-abiding. Yet consensus on the wisdom of building a therapeutic state

has never been complete. Conservatives have frequently been suspicious of efforts aimed at regenerating offenders, fearing that they will furnish an excuse to release the wicked back

into society where they once again will prey on the defenseless. Though objections have

been raised less often by more liberal elements, disenchantment with the prospect of molding a criminal justice system around the rehabilitative ideal has long sprinkled the writings

and speeches of those on the left. Indeed, on occasion, these liberal critiques have pene-

trated to the very premises that form the foundation of the therapeutic state. Thus, in Break Down the Walls, a 1954 tract arguing for the abolition of imprisonment,

John Bartlow Martin termed rehabilitation “the dangerous myth. . .. The truth is that a rehabilitation ‘program’ in today’s prison is utter nonsense. Prison is a place to keep people locked up. It can never be more.”1 Two decades earlier, Frank Tannenbaum proclaimed that

“We cannot do good to the evil-doer either by doing evil or by merely doing good,”2 while Ray Simpson, a prison psychologist in Illinois, observed that “there is very little evidence

that the routine procedures mentioned above have done much to alter the deep-seated

delinquent tendencies of reformatory and, penitentiary inmates. . .. Prison methods of today are stupid and inadequate.”3 In 1925, lawyer Edward Lindsey expressed many of the same

reservations regarding indeterminate sentencing that later critics would come to voice. For

instance, he illuminated the potential problems of giving “unlimited discretion to parole boards to determine by their rules what shall entitle the prisoner to discharge” and ques-

tioned whether the suspense of an uncertain release date might not constitute the “cruel

and unusual punishment” of prison inmates. Based on these and other observations, he warned that “It is probably best not to be dogmatic at present as to what is the best form of

the sentence.”4 More generally, Francis Allen has noted that “most of the counts in the

modern indictment of the rehabilitative ideal were expressed by one person or another before the outbreak of the American Civil War.”5