Targeting the offender's brain. A unified normative framework for the evaluation of neurotechniques in criminal justice

Crime comes with enormous costs. Society therefore deems reducing recidivism essential. One way to reduce it is to target the offender’s brain. Think of offering medication that diminishes sexual drive to sex offenders. Additionally, brain scans have been used to assess risk of recidivism. It is expected that in the near future, brain technologies will improve –if not revolutionize– prediction and prevention of recidivism. But such brain-targeting approaches –which I refer to as neurotechniques– raise fundamental concerns, e.g., about the offender's autonomy, bodily integrity, and privacy. For instance, would it be permissible to offer parole to offenders in exchange for accepting deep brain stimulation to reduce aggression? How these neurotechniques can be responsibly used has to be carefully considered; this is recognized as an urgent challenge in ethical and legal literature. But a normative framework for the evaluation of such (novel) neurotechniques is lacking. In addition, the topic is usually approached from either legal or ethical perspectives, without integration. However, since it concerns the ethics of criminal justice, it is necessary to link ethics and law. Moreover, as fundamental rights are concerned, similar values –such as autonomy, dignity, bodily integrity and privacy– are at stake in ethics and law. The aim of this project is to integrate ethics and law to develop a framework that allows for the systematic normative appraisal of these neurotechniques to reduce recidivism. Such a unique framework can inform ethical and legal research and also guide the design and application of these techniques. As a psychiatrist, with PhDs in neuroscience and philosophy, holding chairs in ethics and forensic psychiatry, I will ensure the profoundly interdisciplinary nature of this project. The interdisciplinary approach will also enable the research team to do justice to the complexity of the relation between brain and crime.