A man stands in a prison cell by a barred window, his head in his hand.
05 June 2022 12:00 AM

Prison Rehabilitation

05 June 2022

What is prison rehabilitation?

Despite its barbaric origins in the medieval dungeon and torture chamber, since the late 18th century prisons have combined elements of punishment with elements of rehabilitation.

As the French philosopher Michel Foucault put it, punishment shifted over time from the disciplining of the body to the disciplining of the “soul”.

The rehabilitation of offenders is a key feature of the modern UK criminal justice system, and work to rehabilitate prisoners goes on, in varying degrees, in every prison.

While in the past, offender rehabilitation may have been directed at ‘reforming the character’ of prisoners, its focus is now on preventing reoffending.

Prisons adopt a range of measures to reduce reoffending. These include direct therapeutic interventions to address the psychological causes of criminal behaviour, as well as services to prepare offenders to successfully reintegrate into the community after release. Those services include the provision of academic programmes, vocational courses and employment opportunities.


In 1779 the British Government passed the Penitentiary Act, which made the rehabilitation of criminals a function of all prisons. Since then, while imprisonment has remained the central form of punishment in the criminal justice system, the emphasis on correction rather than punishment of an inmate has steadily increased.

Rehabilitation techniques vary according to the nature of the offender, the type of offence committed, and the institution in question.

Techniques vary from educational and vocational training to help the offender learn a skill for use outside the prison, to psychological rehabilitation, dealing with various problems the individual offender may experience. Drug-addicted prisoners can also receive treatment for their condition in some UK prisons.

Rehabilitation takes place both inside prison, and in some cases, once an offender has been released, on Resettlement Programmes. Help continues to be provided in these circumstances by the Probation Service and other agencies, either as a condition of their early release, or to ease the transition into the community.

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