This post is the introduction and conclusion of a new book chapter of the same title — I promised to put this chapter in the Useful Resources page a while ago and have recently received permission for the editor in question to do so, so here it is. (if it whets your appetite, you can now find the full chapter in the Useful Resources page):
The title of this chapter may seem an odd one. For many people, punishment and rehabilitation are alternatives between which we must choose, rather than potential synonyms or alternative ways of referring to similar processes. Can punishment ever be rehabilitation? Don’t rehabilitation’s supporters tend to see offending as rooted in people’s experience of social exclusion and injustice, to regard the trope of individual (criminal) responsibility (on which the legitimacy of punishment ultimately depends) as misconceived, and to stress the duty of the state somehow to fix the mess that produced crime? Punishment, at least for some rehabilitationists, seems little more than a fancy cloak to drape around the otherwise nakedly vengeful instincts of those that think (absurdly, these critics would argue) that there is something sensible, appropriate and fair about piling hurt on hurt.
And yet, many practitioners of rehabilitation – even those sympathetic to these criticisms of punishment – hold on to a belief in the capacity of people to change themselves and their situations; to make different choices; to overcome their circumstances; to author a different and better future. Even those who are deterministic when it came to the genesis of criminal behaviors and problems, somehow seem to become believers in free will or the power of human agency (even under intense social and structural pressures) when it come to the future prospects of people undergoing rehabilitation. Moreover, many rehabilitationists also have an acute sense of justice or injustice, reflected in their demands that the state honor its obligations to those whose adverse life experiences have proved ‘criminogenic’.
Readers will already have noted a number of paradoxes and possible contradictions in play here, in terms of how we conceive of individual and political responsibility for crime and other social harms, of how we understand and deliver fairness and justice, and in our approaches to the righting of wrongs. To try to unravel some of these threads and make sense of these questions requires an examination of the contested and multiple meanings of these two terms – rehabilitation and punishment – before we can begin to understand at least some of the potential inter-relationships between them.
Conclusion: When is Punishment Rehabilitation?
Returning finally to Raynor and Robinson’s (2009) discussion of rehabilitation, with which we began, we can now clearly discern four main forms or meanings of rehabilitation. In a recent paper (McNeill, 2012), I have called these psychological, judicial, social and moral rehabilitation. These are the four strands of rehabilitation that must be ‘de-fankled’ in order for us to analyze their inter-relationships and mutual dependencies.
By psychological rehabilitation, I mean essentially what Raynor and Robinson (2009) refer to as correctional rehabilitation that seek to somehow change or restore the offender; to develop new skills or abilities, to address and resolve deficits or problems. A better, less loaded term, might be ‘personal rehabilitation’, since this need not imply that any specific disciplinary perspective or set of techniques is implied in this project of personal change.
The second form of rehabilitation concerns the practical expression of Beccaria’s concern with the requalification of citizens; this is judicial rehabilitation – which raises questions of when, how and to what extent a criminal record and the formal stigma that it represents can ever be set aside, sealed or surpassed. Maruna (2011b) has recently argued cogently that efforts to sponsor rehabilitation and reform must address the collateral consequences of conviction – mostly notably its stigmatising and exclusionary effects — or be doomed to fail. No amount of correctional or psychological or personal rehabilitation, and no amount of supporting offenders to change themselves, can be sufficient to the tasks and challenges of reintegration, resettlement and reentry, if legal and practical barriers are left in place.
But these barriers are not just legal – they are moral and social too. A solely correctional, psychological or personal conception of rehabilitation is inadequate to the moral and social offence that crime represents. In simple terms, doing something for or to or (better) with the offender, even something that aims at somehow changing them so as to reduce future victimisation, fails to engage with other key aspects of dispensing justice. Perhaps most importantly in moral terms, psychological rehabilitation offers no moral redress per se; it operates only on the individual ‘offender’, not on the conflict itself and not on the victim or the community (Zedner, 1994). In Duff’s (2005) terms, it leaves the relational breach unrepaired. Critically, reparation – and reparative work in particular — seems capable of fulfilling this function in ways in which psychological rehabilitation in and of itself cannot, perhaps principally because reparation seems better able to convey (not least visibly) that redress is being actively provided. Though, as Duff (2005) reminds us, willingly undergoing psychological rehabilitation can convey the sincerity of the offender’s apology and of his or her desire to change, it is more typically a professionalised, private and secretive business, and not one that is explicitly bound into a process of moral rehabilitation.
Reparation perhaps speaks to the insistence that moral demands have to be satisfied, and moral communication secured, before moral rehabilitation can be recognised (Duff, 2001, 2003, 2005). In simple terms, an offender has to ‘pay back’ or to ‘make good’ before s/he can ‘trade up’ to a restored social position as a citizen of good character (McNeill and Maruna, 2010). As Bazemore (1998) has argued, redemption needs to be earned. This is not necessarily bad news for rehabilitation; as the Scottish Prison Commission (2008, para 33) noted, ‘one of the best ways for offenders to pay back is by turning their lives around’. But it does mean that rehabilitation theories and practices need to engage much more explicitly than hitherto with questions of justice and reparation.
Ultimately, even where psychological or personal issues are tackled, legal requalification is confirmed and moral debts are settled, the question of ‘social rehabilitation’ remains. In European jurisprudence, the concept of ‘social rehabilitation’ entails both the restoration of the citizen’s formal social status and the availability of the personal and social means to do so (Van Zyl Smit and Snacken, 2009). But here, I mean instead something that is broader, deeper and more subjective; specifically, the informal social recognition and acceptance of the reformed ex-offender. This, rather than the advancement of the ‘science’ of correctional rehabilitation, is perhaps the ultimate problem for rehabilitation today in practice.
Ultimately, I have tried in this chapter to disentangle rehabilitation and instead to show how its four forms might, in fact, constitute not a Scots ‘fankle’, but a kind of Celtic knot; one that weaves together these four strands and reveals their interdependencies. ‘Constructive punishment’, to use Duff’s term, can be rehabilitative; it should be rehabilitative; it must be rehabilitative. But it can only work to prevent crime if it also works to deliver justice, and that requires attention to all four strands.
[If you want to read more: When Punishment is Rehabilitation (Fergus McNeill, 2012)]
 This section of the paper draws on part of a conference paper co-authored with Shadd Maruna (McNeill and Maruna, 2010). I am grateful to Shadd for permission to use some of that material here.