What should be the ultimate purpose of punishment in criminal law? Is it possible to apply measures that do not only pursue a simple retributive punishment but, at the same time, can help to: (a) reduce the risk of recidivism by serving as complementary measures to the penalty and (b) reduce incarceration rates without endangering public safety? Our proposal is to conceptualize the risk assessment of recidivism, and of criminal acts in general, from what we call ¿neuroprevention.¿
We argue that the commonly used term of neuroprediction implies a deeply deterministic, even fatalistic interpretation, of individual behavior, that may lead to a stigmatization of the prisoner or probationer. Furthermore, this can lead to a paradoxical, even dangerous interpretation of the legal policies related to recidivism and criminal acts. Neuroprediction becomes paradoxical when it implies that the system gives itself the power to change the course of future events that, at the same time, it considers to be largely inevitable. This is also a dangerous idea because it could be exploited in certain circumstances to legitimize dictatorial practices.
However, we are convinced that neuroscientific tools and evidence can contribute to reducing crime rates and to a more efficient use of resources destined for risk assessment and criminal prosecutions. This can be accomplished by renouncing the aspiration to predict crime and replacing it with the intention to prevent it, which we consider more realistic and fair. There is no implicit acceptance of the inevitable here. Rather, the emphasis is placed on anticipating the possible or probable, but never conclusively determining it. The double objective pursued by the neuroprevention paradigm is that measures and strategies can be adopted for not only improving public safety, but also for offering the prisoner or probationer a real, scientifically-based opportunity to reintegrate into society by providing adequate intervention and training.
We are convinced that our approach would make it easier for policy-makers and citizens to realize that the advances in neuroscience suggest exciting paths toward a more beneficial, flexible, and humane justice system, one with a more complete and in-depth view of criminal behavior.