Friday, October 05, 2007


Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy kindly tipped us to this SSRN article that hopefully will open a frontier of scholarship, legal and otherwise, on the brave new world of TECHNOCORRECTIONS we're facing. Here's the article abstract:

This Article examines the generally unheeded intersection between two well-documented trends: the state's increasing desire to preventively regulate targeted classes of individuals, and its increasing capacity to use innovative technologies, rather than physical incapacitation, to realize that desire. This Article identifies four loosely grouped emerging technologies of control: DNA databasing, electronic monitoring, electronic indexing, and biometric scanning. It then reviews the legal landscape upon which they operate, and demonstrates that, across the range of doctrines, courts unduly focus upon the physical world as the relevant metric against which all restraints are judged. As a result, technologies of restraint are imposed without necessary procedural safeguards. This Article then outlines four concerns peculiar to the technological nature of these restraints, and illustrates how these significant concerns are wholly overlooked when the physical world is the determinant referent of review. The Article closes by urging greater judicial scrutiny of technological restraints, and by laying out a series of potential inquiries that might aid in such an effort.

Why is this important? Because of research like this:

Researchers have identified brain structures that process the threat of punishment for violating social norms. They said that their findings suggest a neural basis for treating children, adolescents, and even immature adults differently in the criminal justice system, since the neural circuitry for processing the threat of such punishment is not as developed in younger individuals as it is in adults.

The researchers also said that their identification of the brain's "social norm compliance" structures also opens the way to exploring whether psychopaths have deficiencies in these structures' circuitry.
The researchers said their findings could have implications for understanding the basis of psychopathic behavior, since people with lesions in the prefrontal areas show an inability to behave in appropriate ways, even though they understand social norms.

Thus, a dysfunction in the areas involved "might also underlie certain psychopathological disorders characterized by excessively selfish tendencies and a failure to obey basic social norms," they wrote.

Identification of the brain's social norm compliance circuitry "might have implications for the criminal justice system," concluded the researchers. "As these brain areas are not yet fully developed in children, adolescents, or even young adults, our results are consistent with the view that these groups may be less able to activate the evaluative and inhibitory neural circuitry necessary for the appropriate processing of punishment threats. Thus, our results might provide support for the view that the criminal justice system should treat children, adolescents, and immature adults differently from adults," they wrote.

More importantly, this research opens up possibilities for guys like Ed Boyden. Who is Ed Boyden? He's the blogger at the always interesting Technology Review blog where you'll find this promo for a "Engineering the Brain" conference. This is his bio:

Ed Boyden is an assistant professor in the MIT Media Lab and MIT Department of Biological Engineering, where he leads the Neuroengineering and Neuromedia Group. His lab broadly invents and applies novel tools for the analysis and engineering of brain circuits in order to correct aberrant brain activity in intractable disorders.

Hmm. "To correct aberrant brain activity in intractable disorders." Hmmmmmmmm . . . .

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