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Science and the New Rehabilitation

53 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2012 Last revised: 3 Jun 2013

Meghan J. Ryan

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: May 13, 2013


Rehabilitation’s making a comeback. Long thought to be an outdated approach to punishment, rehabilitation is reemerging in the wake of scientific advances. Not only have these advances in the fields of pharmacology, genetics, and neuroscience brought new rehabilitative possibilities, but the media’s communication of these advances to the general public have set the stage for rehabilitation’s reprise. The media constantly pummels the general public with reports of scientific breakthroughs like functional magnetic resonance imaging, prepping the public to be more accepting of deterministic viewpoints and to be more open to the possibility of transforming individuals. The rehabilitation that is emerging, however, differs in kind from the rehabilitation that reigned during the previous era. Instead of being aimed at transforming an individual’s character, this new rehabilitation focuses instead on changing the offender’s behavior. This intense focus on offender behavior may make rehabilitation in the form of transforming an offender’s biochemical composition more palatable to the average American, and indeed this new approach has the potential to be faster, more targeted, and more effective. Adoption of this new rehabilitation, though, discards the humanity of offenders, ignoring the dignity to which they are constitutionally entitled, and it also poses new concerns of coercion. In addition to recognizing rehabilitation’s return, it is important to understand this new version of rehabilitation and the implications it raises for the dignity of offenders.

Keywords: rehabilitation, sentencing, sentencing reform, neuroscience, pharmacology, pharmaceutical, genetics, stem cell, cloning, gene therapy, DNA, dioxyribonucleic acid, penitentiaries, science, lobotomy, psychosurgery, erectile dysfunction, Cymbalta, Viagra, substance abuse, treatment, corrections

Suggested Citation

Ryan, Meghan J., Science and the New Rehabilitation (May 13, 2013). SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 97. Available at SSRN: or

Meghan J. Ryan (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States


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