Neurology Could Lead To More Productive Sentencing

We all like to believe we are totally in charge of our behavior and that that criminals are just people who make bad choices but what if that’s not the whole story? What if a large percentage of the time biology overrides our decision making ability and we are wired to behave in a certain way? What if nature can change our wiring when we least expect it? David Eagleman is the author of a book called Incognito. His 2011 interview about his work and its implications set forth in the book was replayed as I did the carpool run with my kids on August 24, 2012. The replay was in honor of the book coming out now in paperback. According to Eagleman his research has implications for the justice system and how we sentence people for criminal behavior. It is estimated that 30% of the people in prison actually have mental issues that have not been addressed. Eagleman states that to incarcerate someone whose criminal behavior stems from a brain function disorder is ineffective, inhumane, and not fiscally responsible. He gives examples in his interview of a man who killed his family and others and then himself in Texas and police found a suicide note in his home asking that an autopsy be carried out because the man reported feeling changes in his mood over the past few months and generally not feeling right. The autopsy showed that the man had a brain tumor that was pushing on a part of his brain that likely caused his heinous behavior. The same was actually found to be the case with another man who later in life showed signs of pedophilia he had never had before. He acted on the impulse and was in imprisoned but doctors later found he too had a tumor pushing on a part of his brain that led to his bizarre sexual behavior. Once the tumor was removed his behavior returned to normal. However, a few months later he started to¬† show signs of the behavior returning and after a doctors visit they discovered that the surgeons had missed a piece and the tumor was growing. Doctors removed it again and the man returned to normal. What this means for convicting someone of a crime is that we need to be aware of the brain chemistry and look for possible neurological issues to explain the behavior. I would posit this is perhaps even more needed in cases where the behavior seems out of character for the individual in question. If the cause of the behavior is found to be a brain chemistry or neurological issue it needs to be addressed not by incarceration but by mental health professionasl as well as other doctors as deemed necessary. To hear his full interview click here. To read more about it click here.

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3 thoughts on “Neurology Could Lead To More Productive Sentencing

  1. Kristina, I look forward to your thoughts and comments on the material for next week’s Law & Science class on “science and culpability.” We will be talking in large part about neuroscience.

  2. I think this was the plot for an episode of Law and Order: SVU that I saw one time. I remember wondering if there was a basis in reality for it. It really undermines one’s confidence in a system of justice to think that some people are doing bad things simply because of tumors in their brains.

  3. Pingback: Neurology Could Lead To More Productive Sentencing | Law … | Neuro Physiology Blog

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