The Public Interest

What works? - questions and answers about prison reform

Robert Martinson

Spring 1974

IN THE past several years, American prisons have gone through one of their recurrent periods of strikes, riots, and other disturbances. Simultaneously, and in consequence, the articulate public has entered another one of its sporadic fits of attentiveness to the condition of our prisons and to the perennial questions they pose about the nature of crime and the uses of punishment. The result has been a widespread call for “prison reform,” i.e., for “reformed” prisons which will produce “reformed” convicts.  Such calls are a familiar feature of American prison history.  American prisons, perhaps more than those of any other country, have stood or fallen in public esteem according to their ability to fulfill their promise of rehabilitation.

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