Imagine a world with no police, no alarms, no need to lock your doors. As a result, no noticeable police or law enforcement. However, there are still laws, but instead of going to a prison with a high rate of recidivism, as there is today, criminals are assigned the perfect punishment and never commit another crime; or they end up thrown in prison or euthanized because they have been determined to be a perpetual danger to society. This might sound a bit outlandish, but the purpose of the justice system is to keep the majority of society safe. To do this, it must predict a criminal’s future behavior based on biological and situational triggers, and come up with a punishment designed to, ideally, eliminate further transgressions. However, despite the intentions behind this goal, the “bright line” nature of the law is not fitting with the holistic science of predicting criminal behavior.
The actual idea of predicting behavior is as old as the law, but the science and statistical significance is young. As such, the law has developed around the idea of trial and sentencing as a form of retroactive punishment, and only recently has the law attempted to use neuroscience as an effective way of determining culpability and punishment for a given infraction. Previously, early forms of neuroscience were employed as a form of therapy, with the idea that a mentally ill person was like a broken machine: they could be fixed if you removed the broken part. This was the case with lobotomies. Developments since then have used questionnaires and checklists to determine the mental state of a criminal. This information is then used to determine culpability, which has an indirect influence on sentencing, such as with the not guilty by reason of insanity verdict/plea. Some states even include a determination of future dangerousness in the process of sentencing, while others disallow it.
However, “fixing” a person is not as simple as fixing a machine; there are many factors, both physical and psychological that influence a person to break the law. In the determination of guilt, all these factors are reduced to a verdict of guilty or not guilty for a given crime, and then a gradient of a set punishment is administered if the crime is not criminal. A majority of these punishments involve placement in a prison for an amount of time that is determined at sentencing. This punishment does not fit with why a criminal broke the law. The proper sentencing should take into account the psychological state of the criminal and work to readmit that person to society once they have been properly rehabilitated. This rehabilitation must be more personalized than a trip to prison for a given amount of time. Criminals who are determined to be mentally ill in light of psychological evidence should be committed to state psychiatric facilities, instead of being sentenced to prison in disproportionate numbers. When it comes to criminal culpability, psychological tendencies, and rehabilitation, the “bright line” nature of the law is oversimplified to accommodate the mentally ill’s needs for therapy in order to be readmitted into society.