Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law addresses how new discoveries in neuroscience should navigate the way we make laws, punish criminals, and develop rehabilitation. The project brings together a unique collaboration of neurobiologists, legal scholars, ethicists, medical humanists, and policy makers, with the goal of running experiments that will result in modern, evidence-based policy.
Emerging questions at the interface of law and neuroscience challenge fundamental notions at the heart of our criminal justice system. Because brains develop as a complex interaction of genes and environment, can we really assume that people are 'practical reasoners', and deciding in exactly the same way? Is mass incarceration the most fruitful method to deal with juveniles, the mentally ill, and the drug-addicted? Can novel technologies such as real-time brain imaging be leveraged for new methods of rehabilitation? Can large scale data analysis give us insight into patterns of crime, recidivism, and the effect of legislation?
Because most behavior is driven by brain networks we do not consciously control, the legal system will eventually be forced to shift its emphasis from retribution to a forward-looking analysis of future behavior. In the light of modern neuroscience, it no longer makes sense to ask "was it his fault, or his biology's fault, or the fault of his background?", because these issues can never be disentangled. Instead, the only sensible question can be "what do we do from here?" -- in terms of customized sentencing, tailored rehabilition, and refined incentive structuring.
In conjunction with defining best practices for new policy, the Initiative fuels new technologies for diagnosis and rehabilitation – for example, developing feedback in real-time brain imaging as a strategy for rehabilitation, running experiments to optimize violence intervention programs, and analysing large crime databases to understand patterns of crime, crime transference, neighborhood dynamics, and recidivism.
The Initiative is directed by David Eagleman, PhD, who holds joint appointments in the Neuroscience and Psychiatry departments at Baylor College of Medicine.