What is the role of our modern legal system? Is it to isolate those we deem to be dangerous? Or is it to rehabilitate those who have erred and help them make a return to being a positive social contributor? Over the years the debate has been fairly simple; do we seek what is best for each individual or what we perceive to make us safest as a whole? Well just as we’ve started to make some great strides toward a more cost effective and compassionate system, science weighs in to take the debate to a new level.
For some time, we’ve recognized that some people are not capable of making sound choices and should be held to a different standard before the law. We’ve acknowledged and adjusted for the behavior of people with schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression, and mania because we understand their behavior is motivated by biologic factors rather than anti-social impulses. Continued research into the biology of human behavior may potentially turn our judicial system upside down. Most lawbreakers do not have obvious biological problems but research is beginning to show that environment and biology work together to determine how a person thinks and reacts.
The irony of this debate is that our legal system is designed to pass judgment on the capacity of citizens to make sound and reasonable decisions when the system itself has not used all the information available to do the same. As it now stand our legal system operates on the assumption that we all work from the same mental platform and from there have the same capacity to make conscious decisions. This one-assumption-fits-all approach is the hallmark of the judicial quarantine approach that is not fulfilling the promise of discerning judgment. It’s time we take an honest look at the factors that determine behavior and adjust for justice rather than our desire for an expedient sense of security.