Probation – “Rehabilitation” in Theory vs Practice – by Attorney Howard Dworman.
Throughout this blog, I am going to discuss what probation is intended to be, the unrealistic expectations, and what probation is really like. Please keep in mind that the context of the blog is general; some things discussed will not apply to everyone.
Probation’s main focus is to rehabilitate a person. To be “rehabilitated,” the person must take responsibility for their action(s), understand the inappropriate behavior(s) that caused them to be placed on probation, and proactively correct their behavior(s) to show the person has conformed to society’s “norm.” Distinguishing theory from practice is vital to understanding the crucial part of probation.
Probation – Rehabilitation in Theory vs Practice
In theory, rehabilitation is ideal. If all people placed on probation were successfully rehabilitated recidivism would not exist. Of course, the goal of probation is to attain 0% recidivism. What is “recidivism?” Good question! Recidivism occurs when a person, convicted of a crime, reoffends while serving their sentence (jail, prison, parole, probation). Of course, 0% is merely a theory.
In practice, very few people are rehabilitated. Why? Another good question. The vast majority of unsuccessful probationers do not lack all the requirements. In fact, if “Rehabilitation” was not an all-or-nothing thing, the majority of probationers would be successful. Most people on probation take responsibility for their behavior. Most people understand their choices put them on probation. Most people even take corrective action. However, it is the corrective action that is often failed. Few people on probation are able to attend counseling classes, work a full-time job (or get hired at all), earn enough money to disengage from all negative behavior and report to their probation officer. Honestly, probation puts a lot of extra responsibility on a person who already demonstrated an inability to conform to society’s “norm.”
Many times, probation does not provide enough resources for a person to successfully rehabilitate. Most probation officers are over-worked; generally-speaking, average caseloads range from 60-120 people. Most treatment providers have similar caseload sizes and struggle because they simply cannot provide the treatment each person specifically needs. No two crimes are the same; no two criminals are the same; no two people are the same. Thus, when 10 people are placed in group therapy, if you are lucky, 3 of the 10 will get the treatment they actually need.
However, here is the biggest problem. Here is the reason the rehabilitation theory fails everyone (by everyone I mean society, courts, family members, friends, victims, and the probationer themselves).
Probation – Rehabilitation in Theory vs Practice
I want to paint a picture for you: imagine you are a right-handed thirty-year-old, you earned a college degree, you work full-time in a successful career, you have a loving and supportive family. One day, you break your right hand and a doctor puts your hand in a cast. The doctor tells you it will take two years for your hand to heal before you can use it again. Logically, you will need to learn to use your left hand. After all, you are plenty capable of learning how to change your behavior, right? After three months you continuously fail; your handwriting is atrocious and illegible, your employer tells you that you cannot continue to do your job with such illegible handwriting, your family tries to support you, but they have their own problems. You start to try and use your right hand to write because you cannot afford to lose your job; not being able to do something you’ve been doing for thirty years is “killing” you. Your writing is legible again but not quite as good as it usually is. Your hand feels “fine.” Finally, after the fourth month, you crack. You break open the cast and free your right hand. You grab a pen and start writing with your right hand again and it appears the doctor was wrong because your writing is as good as it was before you broke your hand. Another month goes by and you start to notice your hand feels weak, you notice your hand starting to bruise, and suddenly you cannot use your right hand again. You go back to the doctor. The doctor tells you that you should not have taken the cast off because your hand did not fully heal. The doctor puts a new cast on your arm and tells you the cast must be on your arm for 18 months to allow enough time to correct the old injury and the new one you created. The doctor also reinforces the cast with a thin layer of steel so you cannot simply break it open again. Finally, the doctor tells you that you caused so much new damage that now your hand requires physical therapy in order to use it again. On top of all of this, your hand will never function better than 75%. Your life is turned upside down, you need physical therapy, and you will never be the same again.
Welcome to life on probation! You must learn to live life in a completely different way and, if you don’t, (if you fail) you will put yourself in a worse position than when you started. Most people on probation are uneducated and unable to find employment, and the majority do not have a strong family support network. Now imagine yourself as a person who made a poor decision and engaged in criminal behavior. As a result, you are left with no job and no family support. Most people will keep “breaking the cast off” and revert back to “using their right hand” when it isn’t ready. Probation fails to give the necessary tools required to prevent the non-conforming behavior; your Doctor and Physical Therapist should have taught you to use your left hand as good as your right.