Sociology Index


Robert Martinson's nothing works, has become the mantra of those opposed to rehabilitation or rehabilitative ideal and had influenced some in moving the public away from liberal programs of rehabilitation and towards retribution or deterrence as justifications for punishment.

In 1974 authors D. Lipton, Robert Martinson and J. Wilks, using meta-analysis, assessed all the evaluations of criminal rehabilitation programs between 1945 and 1967. They reached the following conclusion: With few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on criminal recidivism’. The results of this assessment convinced them that nothing works really and one program did not seem more effective than another.

Robert Martinson made this conclusion available much more widely when he published a short piece in the Public Interest, (a liberal magazine begun in New York in 1965) asserting that nothing works and the phrase has been associated with his name since.

From Nothing Works to What Works: Changing Professional Ideology in the 21st Century
Francis T. Cullen, Univ. of Cincinnati, Paul Gendreau, Univ. of New Brunswick at Saint John.
The authors explore changes over time in criminologists' professional ideology, a core set of underlying beliefs that focuses academic thinking along certain lines but not others. Until the late 1960s, criminologists believed that the scientific study of the causes of crime would form the basis of individualized treatments that would reduce offender recidivism. By the mid-1970s, this view had collapsed and had been replaced by a professional ideology emphasizing that nothing works in corrections, that the causes of criminality are structural, and that crime can only be reduced through social justice. Although not without its merits, the authors suggest that this professional ideology has had the unfortunate consequence of legitimating knowledge destruction, showing what does not work as the core intellectual project of criminology and thus of undermining efforts at knowledge construction, showing what does work. A what works movement within corrections, however, is advancing an alternative professional ideology that, once again, endorses the use of science to solve crime-related problems. The authors believe that this vision will improve criminology as a discipline and contribute more than "nothing works" scholarship to the commonweal of both offenders and the public order.

Fall of the 'Platonic Guardians': Liberalism, Criminology and Political Responses to Crime in England and Wales - IAN LOADER, University of Oxford - Faculty of Law. - British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 46, No. 4, pp. 561-586, 2006.
Abstract: This paper offers a critical reconstruction and reinterpretation of the disposition towards the governance of crime that was ascendant in England and Wales during the middle decades of the twentieth century - namely, liberal elitism, or what I term Platonic guardianship. Drawing upon documentary sources, and extended oral history/biographical interviews with retired Home Office officials, penal reformers and criminologists, I examine the express and implied values and beliefs that constitute this take on political responsibility towards crime and the public passions it arouses, and consider the senses in which it may be plausibly described, ideologically, as liberal. I then explore three moments of contention during which the legitimacy of liberal elitism was called into question over the last several decades - the nothing works assault on rehabilitation in the 1970s, the rise of law and order politics in the 1980s, and the populist and punitive turn taken by penal politics since 1993.

'Something from nothing': Shifting credibility in community correctional programmes in Australia. - Mark Israel, John Dawes, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.
Growth in the number and size of community corrections programmes in Australia has occurred despite concerns about the value of those programmes. In this article, we examine the debate that took place among researchers and practitioners about the credibility of community corrections following Martinson's apparent assertion in 1974 that nothing works and investigate what little is known about the confidence that various groups in Australia are prepared to place in such programmes.

Evaluation - A Way Out of Rhetoric (From Correctional Counseling and Treatment) - S Adams
Abstract: The 'Nothing Works' doctrine, which purports to use empirical evidence as the basis for arguing that rehabilitation programs in general are a waste of time and money, is empty rhetoric that is useless for rational correctional planning. Adherents of the Nothing Works doctrine have not adopted a scientific, critical approach to the evaluation research used to suport their rhetoric, and they have ignored the ambiguous, ambivalent results of such research. One of the consequences of the current flocking to the Nothing Works banner by many impressionable administrators and politicians has been the attachment of new importance to the prison as a symbol of deterrence and incapacitation.

A Meta-Analysis of Juvenile Correctional Treatment, JOHN T. WHITEHEAD, STEVEN P. LAB.
Debate over the effectiveness of correctional treatment has been raging for over a decade. The view that Nothing Works dominates in the mind of the public and relies on many early reviews of the literature for support. The most contemporary approach to analyzing the state of the evidence on correctional treatment is the use of meta-analysis. Meta-analysis is a technique that reanalyzes data found in original research reports and arrives at a common measure for all of the studies. The present analysis of research reports published from 1975 to 1984 does not provide encouraging results. The results show that interventions have little positive impact on recidivism and many appear to exacerbate the problem. Indeed, the analysis in this article could be considered overly lenient in its interpretation of the results. It appears that the earlier evaluations that claim that Nothing Works are close to the conclusion to be drawn from more recent evaluations of juvenile treatments.

Beyond Positivism: Learning from Contextual Integrated Strategies, JOHN BRAITHWAITE
Good criminologists are interpretively flexible, searching to read situations from the different angles illuminated by multiple theories. Plural understandings of a crime problem stimulate a disparate range of action possibilities that can be integrated into a hedged, mutually reinforcing package of preventive policies. Positivist criminology has its uses in informing the kind of research-policy interface advanced. Its limitation is that it focuses on short-term, decontextualized policies that are intentionally disentangled from integrated policy packages. This when it is long-term, dynamically responsive, and contextualized, integrated assaults that are more likely to bear fruit. Some suggestions are made on how to reform criminology so that its creative and evaluative focus is more directed at what Bateson in 1972 called systemic wisdom. The alternative is to settle for a positivism that almost inevitably leads to a policy analysis of despair about the intractability of the crime problem. That Nothing Works is not an empirically established fact, but an artifact of the epistemology of a science with a particular structure. This structure can be reformed.

Correctional Treatment and Social Intervention Theory: Bringing Sociology and Criminology Back in - Don C. Gibbons, Department of Sociology, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon 97207, U.S.A.
This essay begins by noting the close ties between sociology and criminology, on the one hand, and correctional treatment, on the other, that existed for the first half of the 20th century in America. That period was followed by the Nothing Works era of the 1960s and 1970s. A considerable share of the analysis in this paper centers on the author's primer on correctional treatment, Changing the Lawbreaker. Many of the weaknesses and strengths of sociologically-based treatment theory in corrections are pointed up in that examination. Two major conclusions are warranted: diagnostic typologies have failed to reflect the diversity of offender behavior, and correctional theorizing by sociological criminologists has been unduly optimistic. At the same time, the Nothing Works or punitive approach to lawbreakers is also flawed.

Once Upon a Time Served: Therapeutic Application of Fairy Tales within a Correctional Environment - C. Lewis Holton, Criminal Justice Department, Tri-County Technical College, Post Office Box 587, Pendleton, South Carolina 29670, U.S.A. 
During this century, correctional policy has swung dramatically from stark punitive control to rehabilitative ideal or rehabilitative cure. We have sought a just model for corrections, and we have seen "experts" go on record that Nothing Works. In our search to find the approach that best facilitates adjustment by offenders that engenders internalization of mainstream societal values we seem to have overlooked a medium that has proven itself over centuries of use: fairy tales. In Future Shock, Toffler asserted that "Education's prime objective must be to increase the individual's 'cope-ability'.