The Public Interest

"What works?" revisited: new findings on criminal rehabilitation

James Q. Wilson

Fall 1980

Few articles appearing in this magazine have been as widely reprinted or as frequently cited as Robert Martinson’s “What Works?-Questions and Answers About Prison Reform,” published in 1974. Its major conclusion has become familiar to almost everyone even casually interested in crime control programs” With few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism.” For politicians as well as for scholars, the message seemed clear-nothing works. In fact, the article was careful to point out that there were, scattered through the 231 studies that were reviewed by Martinson and his co-workers, hints of some reductions in criminality for some kinds of offenders under some circumstances.  But these hints did not constitute, even generously interpreted, a clear and consistent pattern of success on which a public policy might be based.

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