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Melissa Ortiz
WRIT-340 A2 Revision
Section: 65135
Therapeutic Community: A Progressive Rehabilitative Movement for Society
Expanding access to mental health programs in U.S. prisons is not the governments
highest priority when the strong opinion of many Americans, that prisoners are to be punished,
pressures politicians to take the hard on crime stance. However, starting in the 1990s, the U.S.
government funded research on effective mental health programs to combat the steep growth of
the prison population, the majority of which were substance abusers. The allocation of millions
of dollars to a specific rehabilitative approach for prisoners called Therapeutic Community (TC)
signaled the beginning of a gradual shift in the purpose of prison, from punishment to
rehabilitation of prisoners. TC programming aims to rehabilitate substance abusers by increasing
prisoners levels of personal and social responsibility through the establishment of a sense of
community for prisoners (Lux, 2012). Not only has this approach accomplished these goals for
many inmates but TC has made for a safer, more manageable prison environment. Inmates who
participate in this program are more likely to have an easier transition adjusting to the
community when out of prison (Melnick, 2001). The benefits of TC are mutually beneficial, for
society and for the prisoner, and the ultimate outcome of TC leads to a safer community,
something that should be more important than punishing criminals. Prisons that have
implemented this type of program have shown lower recidivism rates, but the inconsistency of
the number of prisons that offer these programs shows that there is still a lack of emphasis and
recognition of the importance of rehabilitation programs. Through building a community, TC

teaches prisoners about empathy and having a role in society, skills that will aid the prisoner in
readjusting to society positively when out of prison.
Throughout the early 20th century to the 1950s a strong belief in the redemption of
humanity guided policy in the corrections system, until an evolving culture prompted fear in
Americans (Lux, 2012). Starting in the 1950s, an aggressive youth culture emerged post-World
War II, when violence increased through civil disobedience that caused panic in policy-makers.
The government called for a systematic and hardened process of dealing with criminals
culminating in the creation of the American Correctional Association as one of the many
attempts to regulate the prison system. By 1975, incarceration rates rose sharply, from 202 per
100,000 in 1975 to 274 per 100,000 in 1980 (Lux, 2012). In the 1980s the War on Drugs, a quest
for the prohibition of illegal drug trading, further changed the political and social atmosphere as
mass incarceration, the end of the indeterminate sentence, and the decline of the prisoner as the
heroic, political radical started to take its toll (Lux, 2012). So, this was the beginning of a
history of ineffective punitive measures taken against criminals to deter them from committing
crimes again.
Therapeutic and vocational programs were cut to punish criminals, while also making
sure criminals skills did not surpass those of the guards. James, a former convict sentenced to
life with parole (lifer), who was interviewed at the Francisco Homes, a transitional home for
adjusting to reentry into society, spoke of seeing these programs cut in the 1980s. Vividly, James
remembered the way the guards were required to keep their distance socially from the prisoners,
treating prisoners only as criminals, not people (James, 2014). By keeping this distance, it sent
the message to the prisoners that they were less than human beings, another way that prisoners
were punished. This era of mass incarceration eventually led to overcrowded prisons with poor

conditions, full of non-violent drug offenders. Violent crimes peaked in 1992 but by 2010 the
homicide rate had dropped by 50%, while the incarceration rate increased by 37%. The people in
prison were mainly substance abusers who were not getting the rehabilitation they needed
because of the lack of insight into how rehabilitating instead of punishing prisoners could benefit
both prisoners and the community. By 2009, as more mental health and rehabilitative programs
for substance abusers were offered as a more empathetic approach to the treatment of prisoners,
the total corrections population started to decrease for the first time. These changing numbers in
the prison population coincided with changing policies such as those set by Governor Jerry
Brown who supported the focus on expanding mental health and drug treatment programs,
transforming a punitive attitude towards prisoners, perpetuated by fear (Lux, 2012).
Currently there are fourteen programs total that prisons in the U.S. have implemented to
prepare offenders for return to their communities and reduce recidivism, with each prison
having control over which of those they offer (Corrections and Reentry, 2014). Of these
fourteen, researchers have found two to have no effect, whereas the other twelve have been
labeled as showing promise (Corrections and Reentry, 2014). The two that have had no effect
are boot camps, programs that mainly focus on discipline and are unique by not using a
therapeutic approach in some form for combating criminal issues. The majority of the twelve
other programs that have been considered hopeful by the National Institute of Justice, the
government agency dedicated to research, development, and evaluation of crime control and
justice issues, are mainly rehabilitation for substance abusers. This makes sense given 65% of
inmates qualify as having a substance addiction (Online only: Report, 2014). Of those, the
Therapeutic Community programs are the majority targeting reentry & crime, crime
prevention, and substance abuse (Corrections and Reentry, 2014). Therapeutic Community