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

Comments (3)

Well said, Megan! 

I'd imagine in a few cases it is the root of one's issues -- because society can be very cruel to those who look drastically "different." 

That being said, why should our tax money go towards that? Plenty of people face adversity every day, and they don't all become criminals. 

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I can understand the argument of it being a waste of money. I can also see how procedures done to improve a persons appearance, especially where deformities are concerned, would increase their self esteem and in turn change the way they interact with others in society. Clearly this is something that would need to be determined on a case by case basis, but with the insight of well trained psychologists the cosmetic issue could in fact be found to be a primary root of the problem, and a cosmetic procedure a reasonable consideration.

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Misallocation of tax dollars all the way. Plenty of people have self worth issues and still manage not to become criminals (and thank goodness, otherwise we'd all become criminals by the time we survived teenage-hood!). I feel that if your self worth is low enough to cause criminal behavior, a cosmetic makeover isn't going to solve the problem... use those tax dollars on therapy - they'll stretch a lot further and hopefully fix the root of the problem rather than just the surface.

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