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A Watershed in Prisoner Treatment

writer: NAKAJIMA, Manabu(Mine Rehabilitation Program Center, Director) published: 2020-01

In the 1970s Kinko Satō, a researcher at the Research and Training institute of the Ministry of Justice, reviewed Peter G. Garabedian’s “Challenges for Contemporary Corrections” (Federal Probation Vol. 33 No.1, 1969) and published a critical appraisal in the journal Keisei regarding the shortcomings of “professionalism” and “the doctrine of the necessity of offender ‘improvement’” caused by the many “sacred cows” that had begun to be worshipped since the emergence of the “new penology.” In view of the fact that the era in which this article was written was one of gathering momentum for the reform of prison law “from administrative confinement to treatment confinement,” we can only wonder at how accurately it highlights the issues beyond “treatment confinement” that remain unclear even today in the 21st century.
Satō writes, “The first sacred cow is the ‘only “professional persons” are qualified to “treat” the offender.’…From the time the improvement of crime began to be seen as the purpose of corrections, offenders have been thought of as ‘sick’ people whose treatment was to be ‘psychotherapy.’ This concept was developed by professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, and was extremely influential in the practical implementation of reform… An offender is sick and must be treated. But not anyone can provide this treatment. It must be left up to ‘professionals’ with techniques and expert knowledge developed in places like graduate schools.”(Satō, 1975, p.69) According to Satō, the relationship between these professionals and the people they are treating is not merely unequal. She goes on to describe those being treated and the task of transformation as follows. “And offenders want to receive the ‘treatment’ of psychologists. They think of themselves as passive beneficiaries of treatment and therapists as active providers of treatment. In other words, offenders think of the effort of rehabilitation as ‘technical,’ ‘specialized’ work to be demanded of high-status professionals, not work to be undertaken by the people being rehabilitated themselves.”(Satō, 1975, p.116, p.70)
Clearly no one would think the effect of this kind of heteronomous treatment will be to support the day-by-day rehabilitation of offenders such that they can go on living as autonomous members of society without committing crimes once they set foot outside an institution and return to the community. So what kind of treatment does support this kind of day-by-day rehabilitation? Satō discusses this point as follows.
“They suffer from a lack of the social and cultural resources with which ordinary upstanding citizens are blessed. Offenders do not have the marketable skills such as education that guarantee a normal living. Being stigmatized as a criminal and the experience of having been in prison also lead to inequality and discrimination. …The so-called specialist medical approach must be revised, and today it is the many people designated as non-specialists who in fact are likely to be qualified to provide treatment.”(Satō, 1975, p.116, p.70)
Topics like the bad influence of scientism and neo-liberalism that have gone too far have been examined in terms of themes such as “postmodernism” and “reification,” but here too it has become clear that the issue of specialization and subdivision of the academic domain itself is problematic.
Regarding the second sacred cow, the doctrine of the necessity of offender “improvement,” Satō’s assessment is as follows.
“The second ‘sacred cow’ is the view of those related to corrections that ‘offenders must reform themselves.’ That is, the majority of correctional officers still believe offenders themselves have to change, despite the idea that offenders should be returned to society by reforming the features of society that lead to the emergence of crime being emphasized. …Is it not society that is ‘sick,’ needs treatment, and must therefore be changed? Of course, this approach does not mean overlooking individual offenders. It does, however, emphasize strategies for social change over individual intervention.”(Satō, 1975, p.116, p.70)
When we pay attention to the numerous hurdles, including social exclusion, that offenders and juvenile delinquents suffer, does the object of “correction” not indeed become society and the people called “professionals” who are in charge of treatment themselves? It also became clear that there are many cases in which, given factors like the history of certain young people still at the stage of maturing and self-formation, it is difficult to pin all of the responsibility for deviance or delinquency solely on the people themselves, and it is indeed society itself that should be the object of improvement.
As a response to the promotion of “stopping recidivism” having become the aim, what must be thought about first and foremost today is social rehabilitation support that can allow offenders to live as members of society without committing crimes, and I would suggest this kind of approach is to be found in the construction of a new concept of treatment we have presented centered on the people concerned themselves and focusing on their recovery and moving away from crime.(Japan Association of Sociological Criminology, p. 30-41)


  • Kinko Satō, “Gendai kyōsei no kadai [Tasks in modern reform],” Keisei, Vol. 85, No. 8 (1975), p. 69, p.116, p. 70
  • Japan Association of Sociological Criminology 45th General Meeting Collected Summaries pp. 30-41 Theme Session B



Ritsumeikan Journal of Human Sciences


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Institute of Ars Vivendi. Ritsumeikan Univ.