Fundamentals of Effective Criminal Rehabilitation
If we want to reduce the recidivism rate, then we need to focus on effective criminal rehabilitation methods that actually lead to change.

If we want to reduce the recidivism rate, then we need to focus on rehabilitation methods that actually lead to change. Yet around the world, correctional services struggle to balance resources with the need to provide effective rehabilitation — so it’s important to use these resources wisely.

reduce recividism with rehab


Education is a fundamental component of rehabilitation, serving as a catalyst for behavioral change. Prison Policy research shows that formerly incarcerated people are nearly twice as likely to have no high school credential and formerly incarcerated people are 8 times less likely to complete college than the general public.

The value of education

Education behind bars can close the gap in educational opportunities.

At a base level, education increases an individual’s awareness, improves cognitive function, and reduces anti-social attitudes that are commonly associated with criminal behavior.

Education serves as a gateway to social and economic opportunities, providing formerly incarcerated individuals with a crutch to adjust to life after prison. It also increases self-confidence and boosts self-esteem. Yet education behind bars doesn’t only benefit the incarcerated individual.

a cost-effective solution

Prison education is a cost-effective investment that has a life-changing impact on those who enroll.

These results have been explored by various studies, including the Department of Policy Study at UCLA which found that “a $1 million investment in incarceration will prevent about 350 crimes, while that same investment in [prison] education will prevent more than 600 crimes. [Prison] education is almost twice as cost effective as incarceration.”

Adding to this context, every $1 that is invested in prison education saves taxpayers $4 to $5 in recividism costs during the first three years of release. As governments struggle with funds to provide effective rehabilitation efforts, private organizations have got involved.

investment in education

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

There’s a growing awareness and understanding of mental health. With the recent pandemic, the focus on self care has been further boosted, and the light has been shone on anxiety, loneliness, and depression. As such, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has become increasingly popular, being branded as “gold-standard psychological treatment.

At least, this is the case outside of prison walls.

definition CBT

using CBT techniques

CBT is a psychological treatment based on the understanding that thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions are interconnected.

Negative thoughts and feelings lead to a vicious cycle of negative behavior. Using CBT techniques such as cognitive restructuring and journaling helps break this cycle of negative behavior. CBT is used to help crime victims deal with trauma and can also be used in criminal rehabilitation processes.

CBT Behind Bars

Tests have been conducted around the world, using CBT as a therapy within the criminal justice system.

One study in Nigeria revealed that CBT helped reduce the psychological distress among incarcerated individuals awaiting trial.

Other studies show CBT helps improve social skills, develop critical and moral reasoning, practice impulse management, and ultimately reduce recidivism rates.

Dr. Jose Francisco Suarez Roa writes, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for offenders targets ‘criminal thinking’ as a factor which contributes towards criminal behavior. By assuming that this ‘criminal thinking’ is a cognitive deficit which has been learned, CBT focuses on teaching offenders to understand the thinking processes and choices that precede criminal behavior.”

CBT holds a lot of potential for reducing recidivism and even preventing crime in the first place. Techniques are easy to practice and cost-effective, and particularly useful when dealing with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, disorders, alcohol and drug use, and mental illness.

employment training

A principle of the UNODC’s Nelson Mandela Rules stipulates that "All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings."

Unfortunately, this mindset is not reflected in the employment world post-incarceration. Some criminal convictions instantly disqualify people from certain job opportunities, while other opportunities are shrouded in bias and concern over a large gap in a resume.

Criminal convictions and job opportunities

Some criminal convictions instantly disqualify people from certain job opportunities, while other opportunities are shrouded in bias and concern over a large gap in a resume.

Considering the link between poverty and crime, disadvantaged communities are most at risk of incarceration. For example, prior research reveals that 69% of incarcerated people have no high school diploma and struggled to find employment.

Helping previously incarcerated people find and keep employment is one of three key elements of reentry identified by the Department of Justice, benefitting both the community and the individual.

education and crime

Preparation for employment

Preparing incarcerated individuals for future employment is key to reducing recidivism and retaining employment.

The benefits are expansive, including refining soft skills, improving cognitive ability, and providing industry-recognized training and certifications that empower individuals in the working world.

Second-chance hiring is growing in popularity and effectiveness, helping industries suffering from labor shortages. Studies reveal that 85% of HR leaders believe that second chance hires perform the same or better than other employees, and 81% of business leaders echo this sentiment.

second chance hires success

Preparing incarcerated individuals for employment while behind bars as a step in rehabilitation is the first move to helping them find and retain employment once released.

drug rehabilitation and mental health

Did you know that 85% of the prison population has an active substance use disorder or were incarcerated for a crime involving drugs or drug use?

substance abuse disorder

Research shows that 80% of crimes that lead to incarceration involve drugs or alcohol. Without proper rehabilitation, 95% of incarcerated addicts will return to substance abuse and trigger future criminal activity, including use-related, economic-related, and system-related crimes.

While the hope is that incarcerated people will become stronger individuals after their sentence, inmates with opioid use disorder are at a higher risk for overdose after their release.

return to drug abuse

Substance abuse programs and mental health treatment

Substance abuse programs and mental health treatment are key aspects to include in the rehabilitation process, ensuring that incarcerated individuals get the help they need and address the root of the problem.

Addiction changes behavior and contributes to criminal behavior. So, addiction must be treated as a treatable disease.

treatment programs

Substance abuse treatment programs that have been implemented reduce recidivism, overcrowding, and substance abuse behind bars.

While the initial cost of introducing treatment in the criminal justice system prevents implementation, money is saved in the long run — along with lives and money.