Should Tax Dollars Be Spent on Plastic Surgery to Help Reform Criminals?

K. Mathews on 28 Jul 2011 at 9:00am

Before criminals complete their sentences and rejoin society, prison systems generally try to rehabilitate these inmates to ensure that they don’t become repeat offenders. Often times, rehabilitation means job training, life skills classes, drug education, or even therapy, but there is another, more controversial approach: plastic surgery.

That’s right, plastic surgery. The theory is that criminals, particularly those with facial deformities, act out due to a lack of self-worth. Plastic surgery not only helps the felons to become new people physically, but also gives them the confidence to be successful and not act out against society.

Unfortunately, the research on this topic isn’t too current, although it is fascinating. In 1969, Richard Kurtzberg published a study about prisoners who received plastic surgery prior to their release. As years passed, the parolees with enhanced faces were less likely to return to prison than their peers, even those who received traditional forms of rehabilitation.

nose job before and after photosUnlike whatever put some of these inmates in prison in the first place, plastic surgery’s success is hardly an open and shut case. Conducting a follow-up study in 1980, John Stewart agreed that criminals with plastic surgery were less likely to return to jail. However, his data suggested that these “reformed” felons committed just as many crimes, they just weren’t as likely to be caught and/or convicted for them. Evidently, their new, non-criminal appearance helped them to avoid sentencing. Hey, it pays to be beautiful. 

In 1990, a third study tried to tackle the subject, but researchers decided it was all a bit too complicated to reach a black-and-white conclusion.

What do you think? Might plastic surgery help reformed criminals to kick start a new life or is it a misallocation of tax dollars?

Photo credit: skinmaterns on Flickr