Punishment and Brain Interventions: On the use of Neurointerventions on Criminal Offenders

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Jesper Ryberg


Roskilde University


DKK 920,000




Monograph Fellowships


Developments in neuroscience are escalating at an ever-increasing pace, proving a fountain of new knowledge of the various underlying processes that shape human cognition and emotion. Advances in new neuroscientific research tools and technologies for investigating the human functioning brain, have not only led to increasing insight into brain architecture and brain processes, but have also opened up the possibility of modifying the human brain in various ways. The purpose of this research project is to investigate whether neurointerventions should be used as a method of dealing with criminal offending: that is, more precisely, to address the theoretically challenging questions, as to when, how, and under which conditions such interventions should be used as a method of crime prevention.


The research project is motivated by the combination of the following facts: 1) Neurointerventions are already being used as part of treatment schemes for offenders: however, the use is regarded as highly controversial. 2) The neuroscientific treatment options are likely to be further developed in the future. 3) Existing criminal justice systems are currently experiencing very high rates of recidivism. That is, many offenders fall back into crime with obvious personal, social, and economic consequences, both for the criminals themselves, for crime victims, and society at large. Together, these facts make it important to thoroughly consider under which conditions neurointerventions should be used as a tool for crime prevention.


In order to carry out the project, there are several more precise research questions that need to be addressed. For instance: 1) What constitutes the current status of the possibilities of the use of neurointerventions on offenders and which treatment options are appearing in the near and more distant future? 2) Would it be acceptable to offer penal reductions in return for participation in neuroscientific treatment schemes? 3) What constitute the pros and cons of the use of neurointerventions relative to traditional methods for changing criminal tendencies such as resocialization and reintegration into the community? 4) What lessons should the modern discussion of the use of neurointerventions learn from the ill-fated affair between criminal justice and brain science in earlier periods?

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