nothing works doctrine | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Corrections

The “nothing works” doctrine in criminal justice is a theory that asserts that rehabilitation and treatment programs for criminal offenders have little to no effect on reducing recidivism rates.

The “nothing works” doctrine became known in the 1970s. It held the idea that attempts to change criminals through treatment and rehabilitation programs didn’t work. Supporters of this idea felt that spending resources on these programs was a waste.

Those who agreed with the “nothing works” doctrine said criminal behavior came mainly from deeply rooted personality traits. They also said it came from things in the environment like poverty and social inequality. These supporters believed that treatment programs couldn’t change these big factors. So, they suggested that the focus of handling crime should be more on punishment and discouragement rather than helping criminals change their ways.

Opposition to the “Nothing Works” Doctrine

But not everyone agreed with the “nothing works” doctrine. Critics of the idea have shown many studies that say treatment and rehabilitation programs can reduce repeated crime. These critics argue that personality traits and environment might lead to criminal behavior, but these things can be changed. With the right help and programs, these factors can be improved.

Rehabilitation vs. the “Nothing Works” Doctrine

Despite the argument over whether rehabilitation and treatment programs work, many systems for handling crime still use these programs. They believe that these programs are an important part of reducing crime and repeated crime.

The “nothing works” doctrine might seem very negative, suggesting that criminals cannot change. However, many people, from researchers to law enforcement, believe that change is possible. The debate over this doctrine shows the complexity of crime, criminals, and the criminal justice system. It raises important questions about how best to prevent crime, punish criminals, and help them to become law-abiding citizens once again.

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Last Modified: 06/08/2023


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