- Published: November 20, 2012
After spending all semester studying the intersection between neuroscience research and the legal system, I think that the bottom line is that we need a smarter and more individualized legal system that is focused on the future rather than the past. At the core, the question of how neuroscience research should apply to policy changes is an ideological one. If the goal of the legal system is just to punish offenders, than maybe our system is doing everything it needs to do. Ideally though, our system would not be a backward-looking system willing to lock us everyone without consideration. From an ideological standpoint, the goal of our legal system should be to reduce crime by reducing the number of criminals. One way to do this is to provide opportunities for would-be criminals to find a productive niche in society. Part of the reason why our prison system is a “revolving door” is that once someone is convicted of a felony in this country, his life is effectively over. Crime one of the few opportunities for released criminals, which increases the probability that they will commit more crimes.
The first change to our prison system would be to take steps to resolve this problem. We shouldn’t be taking away the options of criminals to not be criminals. We should be trying to give them more opportunities to not be criminals. This is perfectly in line with a forward-looking legal system. A legal system that looks toward the future has the main goal of preventing future crime. One of the main ways that we can do this is by reducing the stigmatism of convicts in our society. Another way we can do this is by providing a more individualized legal system. There is considerable danger of bias in implementing a legal system that takes note of individual differences. Of course, we would not want to allow this to translate into institutionalized discrimination, but allow for the fact that a criminal is also an individual person. In an ideal world, the legal system would cater to the needs to individual criminals, be they drug addicts or sex offenders, to help them leave the legal system or the prison system unlikely to commit future crimes, which would obviously be beneficial to both criminals and the rest of society.