|Vol. 7, No. 2, 2001 Page 4|
By Richard L. Nygaard
Copperhouse Publishing Co.
(Erie Bookstore, 800-252-3354, $19.95)
Judge Nygaard is Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and Director of the Institute for Behavioral Research at Penn State. In the past, he has assisted Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Albania, Lithuania, Croatia and Azerbaijan to develop their constitutions and Bills of Rights. He participated in an Impact study of the Human Genome Project, then spent two years studying genetics and lecturing and writing about the impact that the project could have on the fields of law, criminology and penology. In short, on the topic of justice, Judge Nygaard knows of what he speaks-and he speaks eloquently.
SENTENCING includes an assembly of eleven of Judge Nygaard's essays, in which he challenges most of the tenets of contemporary, offense-based sentencing. His topics include genetics, legislation and political involvement, the death penalty, free will, the cost of crime, the need for pre- and post-incarceration treatments, and, most of all, the desperate need for a correction-based system. In addition, Judge Nygaard emphasizes the need for behavioral research on brain dysfunction.
The book is written in layman's terms, and is easy to read. But watch out: the arguments are so well presented that you may forever lose some of your present biases.
Recidivism, in some prisons running more than 80 percent, is evidence that prison prepares its "alumni" for crime while failing to impress upon them that they should not return to, or remain with, their criminal behavior.
(T)he criminal justice system and its personnel should be taught to deal holistically with criminal offenders and confront them as morally, educationally, socially, or biologically deficient individuals.
Although criminology is about behavior, our criminal law pays little attention to the behavioral sciences. Penology is about mental health, but our sentencing policy pays little attention to the medical, biological or social sciences. Correction of criminal offenders is about change, but our penal system is content with punishment alone. Although science has much to tell law, law is not listening.
One thing, however, is sure-we cannot begin to cure until we discover causes. Until now little effort has been made in the institutional sense to research and discover the causes of crime, which are, I am sure, as legion as viruses. But I am equally sure that if the behavioral sciences had the resources and applied them with a vigor equal to the physical and medical sciences, breakthroughs would begin. Behavior can be studied scientifically. Antisocial behavior can be modified.
The search for truth about behavior may lead us to facts about nutrition, neurotransmitters, toxins, testosterone levels, brain damage, genes and a host of other variables hitherto unexamined, that explain behavior; hence may explain crime.
(W)e plunge ahead with more executions and kill those whom we should be studying like dreaded diseases to find out why they behaved as they did. I view this as the height of governmental, penological, and scientific irresponsibility.
We are all going to have to learn to cope with... new knowledge about the hereditary bases of social behavior, just as we have adjusted to knowledge about the genetic bases of many forms of disease.
I do not plead for a terrorist who knows why he committed his evil deed. I plead for an America that does not know why. And I weep for an America that doesn't care.