Vanderbilt Law Review


Louis A. Jacobs

First Page



In his most recent contribution Professor Francis Allen suggests that the rehabilitative ideal can flourish only in a particular kind of society. He observes that today's American society lacks the nourishing characteristics that once fed that ideal; consequently, the ideal has withered. This argument is concisely and precisely constructed in The Decline of the Rehabilitative Ideal, a book derived from the 1979 Starrs Lectures on Jurisprudence at Yale Law School. Rather than describe the extent of the decline, Professor Allen focuses on the nexus raised in the book's subtitle--penal policy and social purpose. As social purpose evolved (perhaps "devolved"is more accurate) in the United States, a parallel evolution away from the rehabilitative ideal occurred. In tracing that process, Professor Allen notes that "the modern decline of penal rehabilitationism cannot be fully explained by the persuasiveness of the logical cases arrayed against it." He thoroughly analyzes those logical challenges and canvasses several potential routes to revitalizing the rehabilitative ideal. Throughout, the reasoning is clear, sources are abundant, and the insight offered is sharp. Consequently, one can commend the book as an enjoyable excursion into rehabilitation policy guided by a wise and knowledgeable writer. Beyond that analysis, however, the book suffers from Allen's failure to emphasize that forces other than those that take the form of logical arguments about appropriate penal policies and societal meanderings also play a part in the decline of the rehabilitative ideal.