You Do The Crime, You Serve The Time

Neuroscience and Neurology CategoryResearchers have recently discovered through MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) that in some people the part of the brain that should react to punishment as a deterrence does not work properly. In these cases should the criminal justice system allow for a defendant to get off due to these brain differences?

The Manfred Spitzer University of Ulm, Germany is reporting that in some adults and almost always in children, the part of the brain that should respond to the threat of punishment when making decisions is not as receptive. In the case of children this should rightly be taken into account to reform the juvenile justice system to account for these differences. When we speak of adults there is more than one section of the brain that is accountable for making criminal decisions. Most adults don’t choose to avoid committing crimes because of a looming threat of punishment. Most of us do the right thing because it is the right thing to do and when we choose to do the wrong thing it is for a million different unhealthy reasons. For adults who are deficient mentally and are unable to fully comprehend the potential punishments of their criminal behavior I am afraid they must pay the full price of their crime. There are already standards in place for certain IQ levels, temporary insanity or the criminally insane. I am not claiming they are perfect but they are better than just forgiving criminal behavior due to mental capacity or mental illness. The criminal justice system is never going to be perfect but there will hopefully never come a day when we rely on brain scans to estimate appropriate brain function and rely on them to choose suitable punishment or the likelihood of recidivism. If this were the case, I could rob a bank and claim insanity or not be charged due to the fact I could not be deterred by the known punishment for bank robbery.

Hopefully our criminal justice system will use this information solely to better understand criminal behavior but never to forgive crime due to one part of the brain malfunctioning. Our justice system is dependent on parity and would not survive special treatment for adults with a minor malfunction or deficiency in the brain. We must depend on the lessons learned through life and the societal norms to steer people in the right direction. We can never count on punishment as a deterrent as is evident in the current numbers of incarcerated people.


M. Spitzer, U. Fischbacher, B. Herrnberger, G. Grön, E. Fehr. The Neural Signature of Social Norm Compliance. Neuron, Volume 56, Issue 1, Pages 185-196

  • that’s a very nice post but the question is
    were those people born with this defect or did this defect happen as a result of their behavior, what if doing lots of crimes and ignoring punishment leads to this deformed brain (just thoughts)

  • Sophia

    I am still doubtful how successful the deterrent effect of prison is over other more humane possibilities for offenders.

    I just cannot see that the solution to criminality is to take people whose criminal propensities have got bad enough they commit crimes, put them all together where they can socialise each other into further acceptance of criminality and anti-social behaviour (especially since many criminals are also vulnerable people suffering from mental illness, improvable immaturity and drug addiction and not only people who are bad through and through).

    People who have been socialised to think crime is ok need to be surrounded by people who disagree, not people who agree. Theres a small minority who are actually psychopathic and don’t respond to socialisation, and another group who are so deranged or psychotic or mentally ill that they need to be stabilised before they can benefit from socialisation – both those groups need their own (seperate!) treatment. The rest of the criminals should be spread out so thinly in wider society that the influence on them by law abiding people socialises them out of their misguided ideas about crime.

    Alas the damn NIMBYs would never allow it!

Karen Vieira, MBA, PhD

Karen Vieira, MBA, PhD, has written about medical research, medical procedures, food ingredients, herbal remedies, pharmaceutical drugs, condo construction, real estate and computer consulting to mention a few.

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