A prisoner can be forced to learn and train on what they are naturally/ philosophically opposed to.

For instance,

  1. in general, prisoners can be taught army-style discipline training, and forced to study, and sit for exams/tests.
  2. if someone is jailed for breaking some kind of law, he can be forced to study law books and pass the law test.

and so on...

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because there is no legal question here.
    – user6726
    May 19, 2017 at 15:09
  • I thought it was OK because it is about how the law works. May 19, 2017 at 15:12
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    @PatrickConheady no, it's more about why there isn't a law to do this - that's generally a political not a legal question
    – Dale M
    May 19, 2017 at 20:51
  • You are assuming this would help. If that happened to me, I would come out of jail, keep out of trouble, and make plans to blow something up at maximum cost to the state. And you can bet I would manage to.
    – gnasher729
    May 21, 2017 at 20:30

2 Answers 2


The purposes of criminal justice include (this list is based on the Sentencing Act 1991 in Victoria):

  • Deterrence
  • Rehabilitation of offenders
  • Denunciation ('this behaviour is wrong')

(Retribution can also be a purpose.)

What the question is talking about is rehabilitation. As discussed in the book 'Starship Troopers', you can't expect a person to improve their behaviour if they are not shown how. Some simple examples in practice include violent offenders being sent to anger management classes, or bad drivers being sentenced to remedial training.

Why aren't all offenders put into rehabilitation programs? Some reasons include:

  • Cost. It would be very expensive to offer all the rehabilitation which would help all offenders.
  • Often this kind of thing is court-ordered, so if the judge does not know about relevant programs or does not assess the offender's needs correctly, then the offender will not be sent to them.
  • The offender is unwilling to participate in programs that are available, and there are limits to how much coercion a given society is comfortable applying.

There is no 'one size fits all' rehabilitation. Some people need to talk about what makes them use drugs, others need to talk through their childhood issues, others need training so they can get a job and not fall back into bad habits when they are released from prison. Perhaps North Korea has a great curriculum for putting lots of people in a camp and they come out model citizens, but I'm not aware of the details.

Can a person really be forced to do anything? Even the army can't do that. The army might put you in prison, but that's redundant for a person who is already a prisoner. You can always threaten to kill them, I suppose, whip them, or brainwash them with electrodes perhaps, but that depends on your principles as a society.

I think it's fair to say that, these days, the trend is towards what the question suggests, which is putting as many offenders as possible into rehabilitation. In 2014 it was reported that Texas took the money it would have spent on building a new prison and used it on rehabilitation instead, and there were suggestions that that worked well.

  • Can a person really be forced to do anything? -- this is actually an invalid question. If you tell someone that your sentence could be reduced by a month if you can pass these exam/test, I think, he will at least give a try.
    – user10806
    May 19, 2017 at 18:23
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    @anonymous The question is still valid. You are still unable to force them. Coercing with reduced sentences does not mean everyone will try for it. May 19, 2017 at 19:23
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    The distinction between being able to force someone to do something and encouraging them to do that thing are very important. You may be able to "force" a teenager to do their homework by threatening to ground them, but "forcing" a hardened convict who is already in jail with more threats is a lot harder. In both cases, while we might colloquially use the word "force," they're really a form of encouragement. This becomes important in rehabilitation because there are a lot of psychological changes that literally cannot be forced on someone. They must want those changes or they will find
    – Cort Ammon
    May 19, 2017 at 19:45
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    a way to respond to your attempts to force them which does not lead to them learning anything. A classic example is psychological attempts to change Narcissism. If a Narcissist wants to change, there are things a psyciatrist can do to help them change. If they do not want to change, any attempt to run them through that process actually does harm: the Narcissist learns how to manipulate the system to make it appear as though they are changing, when they are merely biding their time.
    – Cort Ammon
    May 19, 2017 at 19:47

r e c i d i v i s m: That's the goal. Money is exchanging hands with each lockup