In The News
Neuropolitics, neurolaw, genopolitics, and neuroethics are all disciplines that explore and examine the relationships between brain function and these areas of social and political interest. It is easy start one’s own branch of neuro-something by just putting neuro in front of the area and exploring the role of specific brain functions relative to it. As we come closer to our MHC conference, one might wonder how a neuro approach to our topics of interest might benefit our efforts to understand our own criminal justice system. This is not as far fetched as some might believe. For years, researchers have been very interested in the brains of offenders, and how the brains of persistent offenders and psychopaths might be different than "normal” brains in order that more effective risk management measures and treatments might be devised.

Aristotle reportedly once said, "Law is reason, absent passion.” Applying Aristotle’s notion to America’s legal system, it is easy to understand why we persist in pursuing our highly punitive, costly, but questionably effective efforts at managing crime and illicit drug use. Our criminal justice system is driven more by passion than reason.

The theme of this year’s MHCC "Upsetting the status quo…” begs a question related to our criminal justice system: "Which ones?” Why is this an important question? Because our criminal justice system has many status quos that critics have been attempting to change for the past 2-3 decades without much success, leaving others to struggle and cope with the consequences. However, struggling with the consequences is not the same as changing the underlying system that fosters them. In fact, one could argue that improving the consequences only serves to maintain the status quo rather than change it.

Joining in the Incarceration Experience: A Way to Bridge the Gap?
How can we "join” individuals who are released from custody to our facilities?Some individuals are happy to be released, and others who experience trepidation due to being institutionalized. Others may be "frozen in time,” such that upon their release from prison they find the world has changed so greatly they feel disconnected and consider themselves an alien on their own planet.

Now They Are In My Facility: Can We Manage Risk With Little Data?
As noted in the earlier post, and through the ongoing discussion, individuals can be placed inappropriately.Economic costs seem to be one of the major causes of the "shift” to the community, and a possible contributor to a lack of information from the sending facility. What can a facility do if they find themselves with the person already at their site?

The Big Shift: Can the Community Manage Risk?
As many of us in the clinical and forensic community know, financial pressures have resulted in inmates and psychiatric patients being released to the community (early). Additionally, similar individuals may be "diverted” from these placements (while still being at risk to themselves or others) under the guise that they do not meet the standard to be held.So where do such individuals end up residing?

Snapshots from MHCC 2012
See photos from the 2012 Mental Health in Corrections Conference.

Implicit Cognitions, Beyond the "Gates of Change"

Last week, I wrote about how our approach to criminal justice is based on socially collective responses to crime. I also noted that, for the criminal offender, the brain functions the way it is programmed. We are and do what our brains compel us to do. In the instance of criminal offending, the brain’s neural networks activate behaviors that are not adequately inhibited by other neural networks.

Neuronal Networks, Implicit Cognitions & Criminal Behaviors
In previous contributions, I’ve proposed that our reactive responses to criminal behavior evolved from our survival-oriented neural networks, particularly those related to fear, anxiety, and anger. These responses eventually coalesced into practices best characterized as tribalistic. As members of the "law abiding tribe,” we are very interested in catching those who threaten us and the integrity of the tribe. We want to be safe from them and minimize future threats by predicting who may continue to pose repeated threat risks, doing what we can to reduce those threats by various modes of containment ("rush to incarcerate”), punishment (longer sentences, truth in sentencing, ‘Three Strikes,” etc. ) and rehabilitation (e.g., education, drug treatment, mood management programs). However, as many critics have noted, despite our best efforts we are not faring very well.

Defining "Entitlement"

A father told me his daughter came to see him in prison and asked him, "Daddy, would you die for me?” He said, "Yes, of course I would.” She then looked him straight in the eye and asked, "Then why won't you live for me?”


When I was in prison, I remember getting upset when the yard wasn't open on time, when chow was going to be late because the count was wrong, and when I didn’t get to go to commissary on time. Any of those events meant that all evening activities would be pushed back and I would not get what I wanted when I wanted it. I, at one time, really believed I was entitled to live with my wife and my children.

Correctional and Forensic Mental Health Delivery: A Bi-directional Process
As I began to work on my theoretical treatment paradigm for working with incarcerated individuals, one factor that became prominent was the "death and rebirth” process associated with the incarceration experience. Specifically, I noticed that, in order to be successful when entering the prison system, many had to undergo a metamorphosis - shedding many aspects of the "old self” and becoming a new "incarcerated self.” Woe to the person that was unable to do this successfully, letting "the time do them, rather than they doing the time.”

Tough, Smart or Wise?
Every living organism is neurologically programmed, each in its own way, to survive. As I mentioned previously, there also is survival strength in numbers; "birds of a feather flock together.” Anyone following the current political debates and policy disagreements will recognize the efforts by individuals to not only protect their own political tribes from assaults by members of other political tribes, but also make their own tribes bigger by denigrating the ideologies of members of other political tribes – and by making dire predictions of what will likely happen if members of those other tribes are elected into offices of government power. Most of these appeals are fear-based, designed to trigger our anxiety arousal networks. In the end, our neural networks will prompt us to vote for those individuals whose stated ideologies and promised policies help us "feel” safer, less anxious and more secure, often at the deliberate expense of objective information to the contrary.