In a study to determine the therapeutic value of ward policies of restriction and coercion, as in a step system of privileges, investigators compared the adjustments of patients in three ward settings: one with a formal step system, one in which the formal system had been abolished but a significant degree of restriction-coercion maintained, and one in which almost all activities and medications were optional. Patients' behaviors in seven areas were rated at admission, at discharge, and at one and six months after discharge. The patients on the ward with the formal step system showed better adjustment on 23 out of 35 ratings, although only one of the ratings was statistically significant. The slight therapeutic value of restriction-coercion suggested by these data contrasts with the results of an earlier, retrospective study. Cost-benefits involving economic, political, and therapeutic issues are raised.