“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.

This doctrine emerged in the 1970s and was based on the belief that attempts to reform criminal offenders through treatment and rehabilitation programs were ineffective and a waste of resources.

Proponents of the nothing-works doctrine argued that the criminal behavior of offenders was primarily a result of deep-seated personality traits and environmental factors such as poverty and social inequality and that treatment programs could do little to change these underlying factors. As a result, they argued that the focus of criminal justice should be on punishment and deterrence rather than rehabilitation.

Critics of the nothing-works doctrine, however, have pointed to numerous studies showing that treatment and rehabilitation programs can effectively reduce recidivism rates. They argue that while underlying personality traits and environmental factors may contribute to criminal behavior, these factors can be addressed and modified through targeted interventions and treatments.

Despite ongoing debate over the effectiveness of rehabilitation and treatment programs, many criminal justice systems continue to incorporate these programs as a key component of their approach to reducing crime and recidivism.

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Last Modified: 03/10/2023


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