Graham v. Florida was a watershed decision, not least because of the centrality of the "rehabilitative ideal" to its holding that life in prison for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide crimes was cruel and unusual. The Court's emphasis on rehabilitation was surprising both because rehabilitation was barely included as a 'purpose of punishment" in prior decisions of the Court, but also in terms of the history of academic and legislative skepticism toward rehabilitation. Courts and commentators have struggled to make sense of both the meaning and the scope of Graham's rehabilitative holding. This Article places Graham in the context of the recent history of rehabilitation and views its attempt to "rehabilitate"rehabilitation in light of that history. The rehabilitative ideal encompasses three models: a mostly discredited model of rehabilitation as treatment, a more modest model of rehabilitation as training, and an older model of rehabilitation as reform. Both the language and the result of Graham show it to be in the tradition of the third model, where rehabilitation is not something the state provides but something the offender is supposed to undergo through a process of reflection, remorse, and atonement. Rehabilitation as reform is notable because it is compatible with a suspicion that prison in general is a bad place for rehabilitation and that it is unlikely that the state can do anything to aid the offender in reforming. Whether we want to extend Graham or reject it depends on whether we find its ideal of rehabilitation as reform appealing.
"The Supreme Court and the Rehabilitative Ideal,"
Georgia Law Review: Vol. 49:
2, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/glr/vol49/iss2/3