Mental Health Disorders in Prison: Neuroethical and Societal Issues

Guest post by Barbara Sahakian, FMedSci, DSc, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, and president of the International Neuroethics Society.

INS LogoMore than half of all prison and jail inmates have a mental health problem.[i] In addition, according to a 2010 report released by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association,[ii] more mentally ill persons are in jails and prisons than in hospitals, and many of those remain untreated. Those in prison have a higher risk of substance abuse, and suicide rates are four to five times higher than within the general population.[iii] Deaths are also increased upon release, with the most common reasons being drug overdose, cardiovascular disease, homicide, and suicide.[iv]

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Sir Colin Blakemore and the Importance of Neuroethics

The International Neuroethics Society (INS) defines neuroethics as “a field that studies the implications of neuroscience for human self-understanding, ethics and policy.” Though it is oftentimes the subject of controversy, the field is crucial for understanding the significance of science and personal responsibility, and it’s also something that is vital to all criminal justice systems. Among the many advocates for responsible neuroscience, the University of London’s Sir Colin Blakemore was recently invited to speak at the International Brain Research Organization’s (IBRO) global congress to address this topic.

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Neuroscience and Human Rights

Can human rights principles and neuroethics become more integrated in future discourse?

During the final panel of the International Neuroethics Society (INS) annual meeting, moderator Stephen Marks, from the Harvard School of Public Health, noted the absence of the human rights framework from key literature in the neuroethics field, and challenged the panelists to address this gap and identify areas where neuroscience and human rights overlap.

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Robots as Soldiers and Caretakers

INS Robots in Society

L to R: Ronald C. Arkin, Goldie Nejat, and INS President Barbara Sahakian

The International Neuroethics Society opened its annual meeting last night at AAAS in DC with a thought-provoking public program on robots in society. Though the title conjures up images from the Terminator movies (at least for me), the two speakers avoided wading too far into a futuristic, science fiction universe, and instead focused on the impact of robots in warfare and healthcare, and the ethical considerations involved.

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International Neuroethics Society Contests

The International Neuroethics Society (INS) is sponsoring two opportunities to be published and to win travel stipends to attend the annual INS meeting (November 13 and 14 in DC), among other prizes.

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The INS welcomes abstracts reporting recent results in the field of neuroethics and related topics. Investigators at any career stage are encouraged to submit abstracts by the May 15 deadline. Selections will be made based on content, available space, and overall program balance. Participants may submit the same abstract for the INS meeting as for the Society for Neuroscience Meeting. Five submissions will be selected for oral presentations at the annual meeting, 25 will be published by the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience, and eight cash travel stipends will be awarded.

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