The other night, I went for drinks with a new friend, the chemical engineer and science writer Boonsri Dickinson. Boonsri and I both know what a PhD program looks like on the inside, and it didn’t take much for me to get her to echo a thought I have all the time: science is about feeling stupid.
Hey, this will make you feel ok temporarily!
True, much more is known about the criminal, his habits and his history, than ever before; but we are still confronted by the problem of an ever-increasing criminal population -if statistics on incarcerated men are to be believed. Much time has been spent in trying to understand the man, and rightly so; but comparatively little has been done about his rehabilitation. You may study the man, diagnose him, type him, catalogue him, and punish him; yet, you still have the man before you
To my mind,” he said, “it’s not clear whether the evidence of these brain abnormalities should be considered mitigating or exacerbating.”
In other words, let’s say you’re in charge of sentencing a criminal. Looking at the evidence, you’re convinced that this man is unable to control his impulses—that’s just the way he’s wired. Unfortunately, those impulses lead him to do violent, unspeakable things. And since we don’t have the tools (so far) to fix his faulty wiring, he’s likely to act the same way next time an impulse strikes.
Does that mean he should get a lighter sentence because his wiring isn’t his fault? Or does it mean he should get a harsher one, to prevent the future crimes he seems bound to commit?