A Case for Why We Should Scan the Brains of More Prisoners

Kimberly Forsythe
3 min readMar 15, 2019

A TEDx talk I had seen a few years ago called “The Most Important Lesson from 83,000 Brain Scans” by Daniel Amen had gotten me to thinking about my brother and his aggression. Many times, there are symptoms such as vomiting, dizziness, etc. to alert people that something is wrong, but aggression, depression and suicidal thoughts are not commonly considered to be among those early warning signs, especially if no other commonly recognized symptoms are presenting themselves. Instead, they are often thought of as side-effects only after a diagnosis of has been rendered.

Truth be told, we know very little about the brain. It is a complex organ, wrapped in shrouds of mystery for even the most talented scientists and researchers. Science is making great leaps in discoveries of how our brains work and the advent of Artificial Intelligence will undoubtedly help speed up that process.

Although AI is not yet mature enough to take the reigns on helping us map the human brain, we should consider it a top priority to gather as much data as we can to help train AI. There have been a few small studies done on prisoners diagnosed with psychopathy, as well as those without the same diagnosis. However, I (and many others) would argue that it is not enough.

Of course, there are reasons for this lack of interest in the matter. After all, if we were to discover that a certain percentage of criminals were victims of brain tumors that likely caused them to commit their crimes, the private prison profit stream would suffer. In addition, there would be a significant hurdle of performing re-trials on the basis of new evidence, which would add more weight onto an already backlogged and fatigued judicial system. Finally, it would force society to have to rethink our ideas on free will and the causes of criminality, something most are just not prepared for.

A large portion of society still believes that above everything else, we have free will and trying to prove innocence on the basis of insanity is a hard pill to swallow. Even I find myself wishing a particularly heinous offender would meet the business end of a prison shank. But, that is not the answer. If it were, then our prison systems throughout the ages would have deterred more crime, and our society would be a veritable utopia (subjectively speaking, of course).

It is time that we start having frank, logical discussions about these issues. Society at large should call upon the leaders of the neuroscience field to push forward and focus more attention on collecting more data on all different types of brains, especially those of our incarcerated fellow human beings.

At the risk of being labeled an ad hominem argument, if it were you experiencing urges you could not control (and for those who already do), would you not want everything that could possibly be done to alleviate the problem to actually be done, regardless of the price tag? Additionally, is it not true justice to ensure that we uncover all evidence before condemning?



Kimberly Forsythe

I lean so far to the left that I circle back to the right & vice versa. Beware: I have a Paradox Mindset.