Robert Martinson's nothing works, has become
the mantra of those opposed to rehabilitation 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 recidivism. The
results of this assessment convinced them that not much seems to work 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.
In a 1978 publication he admitted that they had left out of
their study some pieces of research which may have shown rehabilitation to be more
effective than they had publicly stated.
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
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view had collapsed and had been replaced by a professional ideology emphasizing that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
Fall of the 'Platonic Guardians': Liberalism,
Criminology and Political Responses to Crime in England and Wales - IAN LOADER,
University of Oxford - Faculty of Law - Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No.
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,
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
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
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 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,
During this century, correctional policy has swung dramatically from stark punitive
control to 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