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Robert Magnus Martinson's "What Works?": Describe Martinson’s Sample

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Robert Magnus Martinson (May 19, 1927 – August 11, 1979) was an American sociologist, whose 1974 study "What Works?", concerning the shortcomings of existing prisoner rehabilitation programs, was highly influential, creating what became known as the "nothing works" doctrine. His later studies were more optimistic, but less influential at the time. He served as chairman of the Sociology Department at the City College of New York, and then founded the Center for Knowledge in Criminal Justice Planning.

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If you want to blame somebody for the rapid release of rehabilitation in the U.S. Criminal Justice System, blame Robert Martinson. Martinson used this essay, it’s following book, and the fickleness of the culture, to become a sort of celebrity across the country. Being interviewed by People Magazine, appearing on 60 Minutes, and debating various criminologists, prison wardens, and legislators on the effectiveness of rehabilitation, Martinson gained national attention. He used the “What Works” essay for personal gain and as a means to get himself attention

In fact, he joined the research team only after they were well into their work. He was opportunistic, and changed the U.S. prison system for generations. What can’t be said for certain is whether or not the findings of the study were accurate. One shouldn’t question the statistics and facts revealed through this study. However, the grand irony is that Robert Martinson, before committing suicide in 1980, reversed his views on rehabilitation. And yet, debaters are going to run back to this study time and time again because it originally matched their argument – despite the fact that this study was only successful because it was people wanted to hear. Debaters live in their own little world where if they find one person who says what they want to hear, they’ll run with it – disregarding all other truths. There is no honor, character, or respect in this. To base an argument upon evidence from a man who reversed his opinion on what he said is unethical. I encourage you to be unlike Robert Martinson, don’t just search to find what you want to hear, but debate with integrity, form arguments based on the truth, and leave this study out of your negative case. But, at the end of the day, you now know what to say if your opponent brings up the “Nothing Works” doctrine.

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In the final analysis, Robert Magnus Martinson was an American sociologist, whose 1974 study “What Works?” concerning the shortcomings of existing prisoner rehabilitation programs, was highly influential, creating what became known as the “nothing works” doctrine. His later studies were more optimistic, but less influential at the time. He served as chairman of the Sociology Department at the City College of New York, and then founded the Center for Knowledge in Criminal Justice Planning.Yet the advocates were undeterred, insisting that programs that didn’t work were fundamentally flawed or not properly implemented

Throughout the decades, advocates kept insisting that educational, vocational and related programs were powerful tools to assist people in and out of prison. If programs didn’t work well, that was the fault of administrators or they were not properly funded or implementation was faulty.

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