Dinner Debate – October 2016

Many people dismiss all prisoners as crooks who, regardless of socioeconomic background, made the definitive choice to commit a crime for which they were imprisioned. Is this true, however? To put it another way, are prisoners always in control of their action? In October, we sought to debate this issue by examining the role that accurate medical diagnoses have in penal systems around the world.

Various perspectives were brought up –– including the European 'rehabilitative' model, versus the American 'retributive' punishment methods, and the policing cultures present in each respective society. Examples of questionable medical diagones in the penal system abounded from the Norwegian government's handling of Andres Brevik, to the claim of 'affluenza' as a medical condition by the lawyer of an American teenager who killed three people whilst drunk driving. Consensus formed on the need to use more accurate medical analysis in the trial and imprisonment of felons in order to avoid prisoner abuse by the state.  

The debate began to touch on more fundamental questions on the nature of free will, when we pondered the fate of criminals like Charles Whitman, whose massacre at UT-Austin in 1966 is suggested to have been driven primarily by a malignant tumour growing on his brain. In all, a great way to start the semester, and a great evening of debate!

Jonathan Short