Original Paper

Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 137-150

First online:

Should the Late Stage Demented be Punished for Past Crimes?

  • Annette DufnerAffiliated withCentre for Advanced Study in Bioethics, University of Muenster Email author 

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The paper investigates whether it is plausible to hold the late stage demented criminally responsible for past actions. The concern is based on the fact that policy makers in the United States and in Britain are starting to wonder what to do with prison inmates in the later stages of dementia who do not remember their crimes anymore. The problem has to be expected to become more urgent as the population ages and the number of dementia patients increases. This paper argues that the late-stage demented should not be punished for past crimes. Applicable theories of punishment, especially theories with an appropriate expressivist, or communicative element, fail to justify the imprisonment of the late-stage demented. Further imprisonment would require a capacity for comprehension on the part of the punished, and, under certain narrowly specified conditions, even a capacity to be at least in principle capable of recalling the crime again.


Dementia Punishment Criminal responsibility Personal identity