An Academic Paper Written by a Criminal Justice Student in 2005 (Bachelor of Science) Theoretical Models for Rehabilitation

Theoretical Models for Rehabilitation (IND 4)
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Dr. Settles
July 3, 2005


     Criminal behaviour can usually be explained by opening the doors to the childhood development of an offender, although some offenders commit crime due to other factors. This paper will discuss the different theoretical models posited for rehabilitation in the criminal justice system and give an opinion as to which theory is the best form of rehabilitation. Different theoretical models may apply to any criminal and probation and parole officers should be familiar with all of them to better help their clients. 

Psychoanalytic Theory

     The psychoanalytic theory was developed by Sigmund Freud and posits that the unconscious mind holds repressed feelings that are unavailable to the conscious and preconscious mind and evolve during the stages of psychological development. Freud posits that the mind is divided into three groups; the conscious for which people relate to at any given time, the preconscious, which is where thoughts and memories are stored any can be easily called upon to the conscious mind and the unconscious where experiences and feelings are repressed. Freud believed that the unconscious is capable of “profoundly affecting conscious ideational or emotional life without the individual’s being aware of this influence” (Abadinsky, 2003).

     Freud posited 5 stages in psychological development which were feelings relating to psychosexual development and are as follows. 1) The oral stage for which babies aged from birth to 18 months have oral fixations and gain pleasure by putting everything in their mouths. 2) The anal stage for which toddlers 18 months to 3 years old are fixated on the anus and feces. 3) The genital stage for which children 3 to 5 years of age are obsessed with their genitalia and have fantasies of incest with the parent of the opposite sex. These feelings will relinquish in a healthy child. 4) The latent stage begins at age 5 and lasts until adolescence (age 13) where children’s genital interests lessen and relationships with children the same age and sex becomes important. 5) Adolescence-Adulthood is a period from 13 to death where genital awareness is reawakened, feelings of incest are repressed and mature adult sexual relations emerge (Abadinsky, 2003).

     A person passing through the first three stages develops 3 psychic phenomena which are as follows; the Id, the driving force of the personality that seeks gratification, is asocial, without values and lacks logical process. 2) The ego which is a time when infants learn from the reality around them and modification of the Id takes place. 3) The superego can be compared to the conscious. A healthy superego is logical and controls the ego and Id and is called an internalized parent (Abadinsky, 2003).

Learning Theory / Behaviour Modification

     Applying learning theory in order to change a person’s behavior seems to be ineffective. This theory posits that positive and negative reinforcement influences behaviour, which makes sense, but changing behaviour by using a reward and punish system is child’s play. Reward and punishment would logically be effective when children are developing through psychological stages because parents are able to teach children about the consequences of their actions, whereas adolescence and adults have already developed to quite a degree. 

     If this theory were effective, then a prisoner’s negative reinforcer would be prison and they would no longer commit crime. This is not the case, thereby proving that punishment does not work and whatever prisoners are taught in prison in regard to modifying their behaviour is temporary. This of course makes sense because prisoners are taught to behave in jail, without being taught to behave in society. Drugs on the other hand are positive reinforcers that produce instant gratification no matter where as does stealing to gain money immediately. Behaviour modification can not possibly treat offenders for these crimes. 

Sociological Theory

     Sociological theory posits that society is to blame for deviant behaviour. In other words, using America as an example; Americans enjoy the greatest economy in the world and quite simply are materialistic and have possessions that many people from other countries do not have. In fact, many Americans have more than other Americans because they are able to achieve success and the goals that are needed to obtain success are unrealistic to some. In other words, the end justifies the means, and the means are not always available to all citizens so anomie develops (Abadinsky, 2003). Some people will go to extraordinary lengths in order to meet the rate of success of others, even if those lengths are by illegal channels. This seems accurate when viewing minorities, substance abusers and the poor.

Social Control Theory

     Social control theory posits that when a person’s bond with society is weak or broken, they become delinquent. The strength or weakness of the bond is determined by internal or external restraints; the internal strengths being the parental influence Freud posits as the superego which provides a sense of guilt, and the external restraints being include public humiliation or shame and disapproval. This theory posits that the amount of risked posed against a substantial reward leads to the reward being perceived as the better of the two (Abadinsky, 2003). This theory is not too far off from Freud’s Id theory where instant gratification controls the unhealthy developed person.

Conflict Theory

     The conflict theory was developed by Max Weber and Karl Marx and posits that capitalism has an upper and underclass and the only people who benefit from a capitalistic society are the upper class (Abadinsky, 2003). Equality does not exist between the two classes, as the upper class makes all the rules and the poor go to prison. This is true today as well, as white collar criminals usually receive a slap o the hand for committing crime and are usually not labeled as criminals or delinquents and so on. 

The Best Theory for Rehabilitation

     All of the above theories apply to different criminals who commit crimes for different reasons. There is not just one theory that is the best, because there is not one person who is exactly the same, however, Sigmund Freud developed the best theory to apply to all people because without proper childhood development children are lacking in many aspects and many become drug abusers as Freud maintained.. According to Abadinsky (2003) 80% of the prison population is occupied by substance abusers. This is enough evidence to gather that improper childhood development is a major cause of criminal behaviour. 

     Without the means to conduct research at this time, a personal example will be used in order to prove Freud’s theory correct. Shawn Nettles mother chose to leave when Shawn was 2 weeks old and Shawn was unable to have his oral needs satisfied by his mother from birth to 18 months of age. Shawn’s grandmother raised him and she was and is very abusive, which may mean that Shawn was unable to fantasize about incest with his parent of the opposite sex. Shawn was blamed for raping a girl while they were both on drugs (aged 14 at the time), was in possession of drugs and then later committed the crime of grand theft auto. Shawn was sentenced to probation and has been running from the law for the past 8 months. For Shawn, there are absolutely no rules, as instant gratification controls his urges to do whatever he likes. Shawn is still running and is into bigger drugs and older women, probably because he lacked the love and attention of his mother as a baby.      


Abadinsky, H., (2003) Probation and Parole; Theory and Practice Eighth Edition Prentice
     Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey