Turns out there is a lot of research out there on the subject. Criminogenics is the study of needs that must be addressed in order to rehabilitate a convicted criminal and reduce recidivism (breaking the law again).
It's tied to the old debate. What should be the purpose of the penal law? To punish or to rehabilitate?
Criminogenics looks for ways to rehabilitate a person so that they can reenter society and not commit another crime. It's not the typical kumbaya approach to rehabilitation and treatment. It's based on scientific research and identifies six risk factors that associate with criminal conduct:
1. antisocial/ pro-criminal attitudes, values, and beliefs
2. pro-criminal associates
3. temperament and personality factors
4. a history of antisocial behavior
5. family factors
6. low levels of educational, vocational or financial achievement
Some of these areas can be changed and some cannot. It takes a lot of work and skilled practitioners to change someone's beliefs, personality, associates, and temperament. The focus is on changing the individual. It is difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to change the individual's environment.
There is plenty of research to support the idea that programs that correctly work on these areas reduce recidivism. Programs that just provide education or drug treatment don't work well.
But, what about the victim in all this? Should there be some measure of justice for the victim of the crime? Should the seriousness of the crime have an impact on what happens? If we switch to a strictly rehabilitative program, should it be enough for a person that was raped to know that we're doing everything we can to help the defendant get back on track?
I think criminogenic programs have their place with misdemeanor and low level felonies. When a serious and violent crime occurs though, there must be a measure of punishment doled out to deter the defendant and others. Additionally, even people who study criminogenics will admit that there are people who will not respond to treatment. Everyone cannot be saved.
There is legislation pending in New York that would raise the age of infancy to eighteen. That means everyone up to seventeen would go through family court, except for serious felonies. The age is currently sixteen. New York is one of only two states where sixteen year olds are treated like adults.
The teenagers I see are extremely violent and involved in gangs. All of their friends are too. There is generally limited parental involvement and no motivation to change. In at risk populations, changes and training must start when children are five or six years old. The families, communities, and schools are where training should begin. All the training in the world won't work if we release a person into the same environment.
One quick story. A defendant had committed a series of burglaries. He was sixteen. The police caught him leaving one of the houses. They brought him in for questioning and his mother showed up. She asked the police what the big deal was. All the people he was stealing from have insurance.
These are the attitudes all programs will battle against. Our society has tried to strike a balance between rehab and punishment for decades and will continue to do so.