Why do systems that deal with people at the edge of society seem to fail at rehabilitation?

The prison system, mental health system, foster care system or any institution that deals with troubled people (schools for troubled kids).

A good number of these people certainly aren’t beyond help. Lets take foster care kids for example. It’s clear that they need good parents and there are people willing to adopt. So why hasn’t the system been designed to give them just that? Prisoners are the same even though they are in a more dark category. Rehabilitation would solve all the issues with crime in the US so why are people so obsessed with punishment?

These people can be capable of functioning members of society but it seems like society does not care about them and only locks them up. These all seem like prisons in a way. Punishing them and blaming them instead of offering help.

They often (though not always) fail because the people they deal with are at the edge of society. That’s sort of the definition of “edge of society”. Whenever a system works really well, the people it helps aren’t considered “edge” any more.

You’ve asked a pretty general question and each application will have a different answer. As far as foster children, I agree with you 100%. In society, any two idiots that can manage to have sexual intercourse can have, keep, and care for children and as long as no emergency happens, the state will not intervene. However, if you want to adopt these children, the government will examine you in a horribly intrusive manner; treat you almost like the worst criminal.

I’m not saying that we should give foster children to people like we would free kittens at a yard sale, but considering the risk/reward the standards need to be dialed way back. On orders of magnitude way back.

They are the people a society cares little about, except in the abstract, and is more interested in protecting itself from. Rehabilitation is difficult and it’s simple to say “they are xyz, fuck em”.

Any proposals how to rehabilitate Richard Ramirez, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy? Maybe a guy caught with some weed should be rehabilitated, but at sometimes you have to draw a line and go for retribution, or at the very least, incapacitation.

Since this topic is likely to be controversial, it’s probably better suited to Great Debates than General Questions.

General Questions Moderator

If you were to pull out all the stops for rehabilitating/helping the edge people, they’d consume a grossly inordinate amount of resources, I suspect.

And society in general tends to think that most of the money should go to things that most of the people value. It’s how democracies work in large part. Of course, there are things like constitutions and courts that ideally prevent people in need from being totally ignored, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get all the resources allocated that they’d otherwise need to be most effectively treated.

It’s unfortunate, but that’s how things work.

Maybe it is society itself that should be rehabilitated, instead of those on the edge.

Remember that the results you hear about are almost invariably the failures (because they are the ones that make the news) regardless of whether you are talking about foster care, mental health, parole, or any other societal “problem”.

I’m not saying that success is inevitable (not even suggesting that it is common), but that you need proper statistics, not news media to judge whether these things are failures or else what you see will be an exaggeration of the problem.

No offense to the OP, but you have no idea what you’re talking about. Massive efforts are made to rehabilitate these people.

The problem is that it’s easy for somebody who isn’t involved to say “The solution is obvious. We should be trying rehabilitation.” The hard work is what’s being done by all the people who are actually involved in rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation is not an easy process. And it’s especially difficult when you’re dealing with people who may not be all that interested in being rehabilitated.

A project like a rehabilitation works best when the practitioners are something like saints. But, 1. saints are hard to find, and so we get the flawed leading the flawed. Thus the system model is flawed, because it assumes the practitioners are materially different from the patients/offenders, when really the practioners just literally have A) more and/or better resources (and early childhood educations, which boils down to an instance of A (but obviously serial killer types are also amoral)) . The whole thing reeks of ‘us’ and ‘them’, which reinforces the problem rather than fixing it; a saint-ish practioner would not get hung up on the self in the first place, and these problems wouldn’t arise in their personal case/sphere of influence, keeping point 1, above, in mind.

For foster kids, there are two failure modes. One is where you leave a kid in an abusive family. Another is where you take a kid out of a family that would have been perfectly fine. Anything that makes one less likely is probably going to make the other more likely.

Also, not everybody who wants to foster or adopt necessarily has good motivations for doing so, and you can’t assume they do. There have been cases of foster or adopted children being molested or otherwise abused.

One is that the kind of thinking that says “we have to pay a lot to get the best candidate” doesn’t exist when it comes to services for the poor. It’s more like, “we’ll pay as little as we can, and take what we can get.”

Another is that many of the good parents who want to adopt want babies without risk factors for serious problems. That doesn’t apply to most kids in foster care.

A third is that many people just don’t give a shit about the category of people who are marginal. They don’t want them in their neighborhoods, and they don’t want them in their schools. That’s what makes them good schools and good neighborhoods.

A fourth is that helping people who are marginalized is difficult, demanding, and often frustrating work. It’s hard to find people who are both good at it, and willing to do it for little or no money.