- Published: September 12, 2012
- Written by Joshua Jackson
Among the hopes held for the future of the intersection of neuroscience and law, the reduction of the recidivism rate figures prominently. In 1961 and continuing through 1963, a team of Harvard researchers under the direction of Dr. Timothy Leary conducted a study at Concord State Prison in Massachusetts on the possible therapeutic effect of psilocybin on recidivism.
The study was conducted not out of a interest in reducing recidivism rates but rather because “recidivism would be an objective measure of behavior change that would more persuasively demonstrate the effects of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy than subjective self-report questionnaires and tests.” (Doblin 1999) This motivation then is inverted from that of the Initiative on Neuroscience and the Law.
In 1999 the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies published a follow up to the Concord Prison Experiment. Although the initial reports from the study were positive, the follow-up study found that “published claims of a treatment effect were erroneous.” (Doblin 1999)
Meanwhile, a previous study published by the same author had supported the findings of the famous “Good Friday Experiment” conducted under Leary's supervision. The results of that study were also reproduced with more rigorous methods by Johns Hopkins University researchers in 2006.
The original Concord Experiment paper cites and the MAPS follow-up emphasizes the “necessity of embedding psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy with inmates within a comprehensive treatment plan that includes post-release non-drug group support programs.” (Doblin 1999) Further research is necessary to determine if psilocybin can be used to good effect within such a program.
It is notable that in the Concord Experiment, the California Personality Inventory showed significant increases in Tolerance and and Achievement via Conformity, which would be expected to lead to a reduction in recidivism. (Leary 1965) Ironically, this failure of change in measured personality to translate to a reduction in recidivism validates Dr. Leary's original insight that recidivism would be a more significant demonstration of the merits of a treatment. When future work in neuroscience inevitably uncovers new treatments suspected of being of use in improving the course of human lives, recidivism may prove to be a valuable acid test.
1. LEARY, T “A New Behavior Change Program Using Psilocybin” Psychotherapy Vol. 2, No. 2, July, 1965, pp. 61-72
2. DOBLIN, R “Dr. Leary's Concord Prison Experiment: A 34 Year Follow-Up Study” MAPS Bulletin Vol. 9, No. 4 Winter 1999/2000 pp. 10-18
4. PAHNKE, W. N. “Drugs and Mysticism: An Analysis of the Relationship between Psychedelic Drugs and the Mystical Consciousness” Thesis presented to the Committee on Higher Degrees in History and Philosophy of Religion, Harvard University, June 1963
5. GRIFFITHS, R. R. “Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later” Psychopharmacology 187 pp. 268-283