Changing the Criminal Character: Nanotechnology and Criminal Punishment

In A. Santosuosso (ed.), Proceedings of the 2011 Law and Science Young Scholars Symposium. Pavia University Press (2012)


This chapter examines how advances in nanotechnology might impact criminal sentencing. While many scholars have considered the ethical implications of emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, few have considered their potential impact on crucial institutions such as our criminal justice system. Specifically, I will discuss the implications of two types of technological advances for criminal sentencing: advanced tracking devices enabled by nanotechnology, and nano-neuroscience, including neural implants. The key justifications for criminal punishment- including incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution – apply very differently to criminal sentences using these emerging technologies than they do to imprisonment. Further, use of these technologies would represent a shift away from retribution as the primary justification for criminal punishment. In addition, the possibility of nano-neural implants entails a new model of rehabilitation: namely, involuntary rehabilitation aimed at changing an offender’s character, rather than his environment.

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Katrina L. Sifferd
Elmhurst College

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