Robina public forum to examine the role of brain science in criminal treatment, reform

Posted Date: September 9, 2013

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: Reforming criminals by directly modifying their brains. But as advances in neuroscience expand our ability to change behavior by manipulating the human brain, important legal and ethical questions emerge: How far can we go, or should we go, to reform criminals?

The Robina Institute will explore these questions in an upcoming public forum, “Treating the Criminal Offender Brain: Can We? Should We?” The event will be 3:30-5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, at the University of Minnesota Law School.

The free public event, the latest installment of the Robina in Conversation series, is one of the first such forums in the world to consider the legal and ethical implications of using brain science for offender treatment. It will feature Professor Hank Greely, director of Stanford’s Center for Law and Biosciences, and Michael Caldwell, senior staff psychologist at the University of Wisconsin’s Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center.

Professor Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota Law School co-organized the event and will moderate the discussion.

“America’s long-standing incarceration problem is about to cross paths with brain science, which offers the tantalizing promise of changing offender brains in ways not previously possible,” Shen said. “But will this promise be realized? Will brain science be used to promote justice or to reinforce existing inequalities?”

Greely is the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law at Stanford. He specializes in the ethical and legal implications of advances in neuroscience and genetics. He is also chairman of Stanford’s steering committee for the Center for Biomedical Ethics and director of the Interdisciplinary Group on Neuroscience and Society.

Caldwell is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and president of the Wisconsin Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. He specializes in juvenile delinquency and psychopathic personality in adolescents, and risk assessment of juvenile sexual offenders.

“We are very lucky to be joined by two of the nation’s most innovative thinkers in this area,” Shen said. “This promises to be a lively, controversial, and engaging discussion.”

Shen conducts empirical research at the intersection of law and the brain sciences. In addition to his position at the University of Minnesota, he is executive director of education and outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience.

Click here to learn more or to register for the event.

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