The author replies: we still need to demonstrate program effectiveness Essay

The author replies: we still need to demonstrate program

It was not my contention that “nothing works when it comes to
rehabilitating offenders.’ Pamela K. Lattimore and Ann D. Witte
repeatedly state this to be my position. There is an important
difference between saying nothing works and saying no one rehabilitation strategy has consistently been shown to be successful. Just as
Professors Lattimore and Witte subscribe to the latter view, so do I.

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They state that I favor abandoning or abolishing employment
programs for offenders. There was no such recommendation in my article.
Rather, the conclusion asks whether “some of the dollars currently
spent on facilitating the labor market adjustment of offenders could be
better applied to increasing the education and training of those young
people with the least access to these services.’1

Lattimore and Witte argue for stronger interventions. They
characterize work release, transitional aid, and some prison training
programs as intrinsically weak rehabilitative treatments. Hence,
“insignificant effects on behavior are precisely what should have
been expected.’ Although the plea for stronger rehabilitative
treatments may be correct, it may not always be easy to discern the
weaker interventions from the stronger ones. For example, in
Witte’s 1977 evaluation of work release (“Work Release in
North Carolina–A Program That Works!’)2 there was little
indication from the title or the content that work release was a weak
intervention from which little could be expected. Although Lattimore
and Witte also use transitional aid as another example of a weak
intervention, this strategy is supported in another 1977 article
coauthored by Witte.3

Lattimore and Witte state that, whenever possible, the evaluation
of rehabilitative treatments should involve careful planning, random
assignment, adequate sample size, and measurement of labor market
performance and recidivism. When random assignment is not possible,
carefully designed quasi-experiments are appropriate. I agree.

The record to date

Lattimore and Witte suggest that rehabilitative labor programs may
not have performed better because these interventions were not
“implemented precisely as planned.’ If the disappointing
performance of some or all of the rehabilitative treatments reviewed in
my article is to be attributed to inadequate implementation, rather than
to the treatments themselves, Lattimore and Witte have missed an
excellent opportunity to be more specific as to which interventions have
been significantly affected by poor implementation and in what ways.
Unsupported generalizations such as “implementation has been a
problem in many manpower programs’ do not substantially advance the

More detailed information regarding the difficulties of
implementing rehabilitative interventions would have been especially
helpful in understanding the findings from the “Supported
Work’ program. This approach, with its emphasis on peer group
support, close supervision, and gradually accelerating performance
expectations, was implemented for groups of ex-offenders, welfare
recipients, ex-addicts, and youth. Although the program was judged to
be successful for welfare recipients and ex-addicts, program objectives
were not achieved for ex-offenders and youth.4 If implementation
problems frustrated the successful application of this program to help
ex-offenders, how is it that such problems did not undermine the
services provided to welfare recipients and ex-addicts?

This is not to deny, however, that program implementation may not
seriously constrain the success of rehabilitative manpower efforts for
offenders. In his review of these programs undertaken in the
1960’s and early 1970’s, Robert Taggart analyzes some of the
inherent difficulties in administering rehabilitative treatments for the
offender population. Taggart asserts that implementation is often
thwarted by hostility toward those programs on the part of offenders,
officials of the criminal justice system, and potential employers.
Taggart concludes, “This negative attitude can be a greater
impediment to the success of manpower services than any identifiable
problem in the system or the individual.’5

In discussing the importance of program implementation in their
“Promising research directions’ section, Lattimore and Witte
indicate that recent progress has been made. They cite two recent
studies involving innovative approaches to the problem in the education
area. On the basis of these comments by Lattimore and Witte, it may
appear that because we now know more about program implementation, it
should be a somewhat straightforward matter to implement a given
rehabilitation strategy designed for offenders and then carefully
evaluate the efficacy of the intervention.

A review of the two studies suggests that this may not be the case.
The implementation technique tested by Ronald G. Tharp and Ronald
Gallimore was applied in what even the editors of the volume in which
the article appears concede was a rather unusual environment. The
approach relies upon what the authors admit are subjective signals in
determining whether the implementation should continue and whether it is
proceeding according to plan. It also relies upon subjective and
somewhat ad hoc methods for correcting any particular perceived
deviation from the intended implementation.6

The strategy tested by Gary D. Gottfredson is similar to that
discussed by Tharp and Gallimore and shares some of the same potential
threats to successful replicability. Subjective judgments appear to
determine the detection of deviations from an implementation blueprint
and the appropriate corrective actions.7

Although these models of improved program implementation have been
successful, it remains to be seen if they can be applied in many
organizational and environmental settings. This is especially true
because, as Gottfredson concedes,8 the approaches are very expensive and
require the services of the relatively small number of researchers with
the requisite skills to apply these models. In sum, implementation is a
complex and unsettled problem. It seems much too early to determine to
what extent the innovations cited by Lattimore and Witte may be
generalized to employment programs for offenders.

Rehabilitation as the one program goal

Lattimore and Witte raise an interesting and important question
regarding the objectives of prison rehabilitation programs. They argue
that facilitating the labor market adjustment of releases may be just
one objective of such program activities. Prison training and
rehabilitation services may lower prison costs, facilitate prison
management, and attract less sadistic and authoritarian personnel. It
is correctly argued that if rehabilitation programs efficiently advance
these other objectives, they should be continued even though they may
not be effective in rehabilitating inmates. Although it may not be
possible to make any conclusive judgments at this time, this position
deserves additional consideration.

With respect to the impact of rehabilitation programs on prison
costs, a recent examination of costs in 19 institutions by Peter Schmidt and Witte indicates no systematic statistical association between
rehabilitation programs and either short-run or long-run prison costs.9

It would have been helpful if Lattimore and Witte had explained the
hypothesized relationship between rehabilitation programs and prison
management. However, an earlier analysis of this issue, coauthored by
Witte, does construct such a relationship:

To survive the ordeal of captivity, an offender must hope that he
will emerge from it capable of enjoying life in a free world, and he
must be assured that the portion of his life that is spent in prison was
not entirely wasted. Without hope and a sense of significance, he is
more likely to become embittered and to view himself as a victim of
society’s arbitrary vengeance. The offender who feels society is
trying to help him may accept some of the restrictions imposed on him.
The offender who feels that society has no other goal other than to
punish him will feel justified in attacking his captors.10

In that same work, Seymor Halleck and Witte also explain how
prisons attempting to rehabilitate, rather than warehouse, prisoners
attract a higher quality staff:

Correctional workers, too, must have hope and a sense of
usefulness. No one wants to be his brother’s keeper unless he is
convinced that the process of keeping will be helpful. Our correctional
system already has too many lethargic, bureaucratically insensitive and
even sadistic employees. A warehousing philosophy attracts more of them
and reduces the possibility of creating a benign environment.11

This is a powerful analysis. However, unless prison training and
rehabilitation programs can, at some point, demonstrate that they are
effective in improving post-release outcomes, will not these programs
eventually risk being viewed by all concerned as a sham or simply as
busy work? In that event, would they not exacerbate rather than
ameliorate the alienation and embitterment of the inmates? If prison
rehabilitation programs do not eventually establish a credible record of
effectiveness, would prisons still succeed in attracting more humane
correctional personnel?


ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The author thanks Steven M. Director, Valerie
Englander, and Michael E. Borus for their helpful comments.

1 Frederick Englander, “Helping ex-offenders enter the labor
market,’ Monthly Labor Review, July 1983, pp. 25-30. My
suggestion that some of the funds now allocated to rehabilitation
programs be diverted to what may be called prevention programs implies,
of course, that the remainder of the rehabilitation funds should not be
transferred. If it were my position that “nothing works,’ it
would be inconsistent to support the continuation of rehabilitation,
even on a smaller scale.

2 Ann D. Witte, “Work Release in North Carolina–A Program
That Works!’ Law and Contemporary Problems, Winter 1977, pp.

3 Seymor L. Halleck and Ann D. Witte, “Is Rehabilitation
Dead?’ Crime and Delinquency, October 1977, pp. 372-82. Of
course, interventions that are weaker need not be less effective or
subject to more modest expectations. Irving Piliavin and Rosemary
Gartner (“The Impact of Supported Work on Ex-Offenders,’
University of Wisconsin, Institute for Research on Poverty, 1981)
suggest, following the early success of transitional aid, that this
weaker intervention may have been more successful than earlier, stronger
interventions, because transitional aid encouraged a sense of self
sufficiency, while more comprehensive assistance may foster
institutional dependency and perpetuate the stigma of being an

4 Board of Directors, Manpower Development Research Corp., Summary
and Findings of the National Supported Work Demonstration (Cambridge,
MA, Ballinger Publishing Co., 1980).

5 Robert Taggart, The Prison of Unemployment: Manpower Programs
for Offenders (Baltimore, MD, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972).

6 Ronald G. Tharp and Ronald Gallimore, “The Ecology of
Program Research and Development: A Model of Evaluation
Succession,’ in Lee Sechrest and others, eds., Evaluation Studies
Review Annual, vol. 4 (Beverly Hills, CA, Sage Publications, 1979).

7 Gary D. Gottfredson, ed., The School Action Effectiveness Study:

The First Interim Report (Baltimore, MD, The Johns Hopkins
University, Center for Social Organization of Schools, 1982); and Gary
D. Gottfredson, “A Theory Ridden Approach to Program
Evaluation,’ American Psychologist, forthcoming. Note that
Gottfredson envisions a closer union of the evaluation researcher and
program implementer who would “collaborate in evaluation design,
question formulation, and planning. As a result, researchers
extensively intervene in project development–indeed they become part of
the project.’ This would seem to threaten the objectively of the

8 Gottfredson, “A Theory Ridden Approach.’

9 Peter Schmidt and Ann D. Witte, An Economic Analysis of Crime
and Justice (New York, Academic Press, 1984).

10 Halleck and Witte, “Is Rehabilitation Dead?’ p. 379.

11 Ibid.


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