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Further, Martinson derided the theory of “crime as a social phenomena,” arguing that rehabilitative strategies “have on occasion become, and have the potential for becoming, so draconian as to offend the moral order of a democratic society.” He also worried that rehabilitation implied releasing those who have little risk of re-offending, but keeping high-risk criminals locked up so that they might be rehabilitated.
Further, critical theorists like Michel Foucault (1977) problematized the rehabilitative ideal by arguing it widened the net of social control, serving to “enable the state to expand its power over the minds and bodies of socially disruptive, surplus, and/or vulnerable populations.” (Cullen 2005).
He called it “an unexamined assumption” that is “about to lose its privileged status as the unthinking axiom of public policy.” In 1975, he went on 60 Minutes and reiterated this message.
Cullen says Martinson’s work was soon after “reified,” creating a widely accepted “nothing works doctrine” (Cullen 2005).
For instance, doing well in a prison’s educational programming or counselling made no impact on recidivism.
Further, Martinson’s review found that the length of a sentence had no impact on recidivism.
In short, they wanted to remove discretionary power from corrections and give that power over to legislatures.