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Biocriminal Justice: Exploring Public Attitudes to Criminal Rehabilitation Using Biomedical Treatments

  • Robin Whitehead
  • Jennifer A. ChandlerEmail author
Original Paper


Biomedical interventions, such as pharmacological and neurological interventions, are increasingly being offered or considered for offer to offenders in the criminal justice system as a means of reducing recidivism and achieving offender rehabilitation through treatment. An offender’s consent to treatment may affect decisions about diversion from the criminal justice system, sentence or parole, and so hope for a preferable treatment in the criminal justice system may influence the offender’s consent. This thematic analysis of three focus group interviews conducted in Canada with members of the public investigates how the public views the use of biomedical treatments within the criminal justice system, and the practice of encouraging offender consent to biomedical treatment through the hope of a reduced criminal sentence. The public focus group discussions followed a semi-structured interview guide, and were based on two hypothetical case examples involving individuals choosing whether to consent to a range of cocaine addiction or anti-libidinal treatments respectively in the hope of receiving a more lenient sentence. The discussions covered a wide range of themes, and here we present the participants’ evaluations of this type of biomedical treatment offer in light of three key theoretical sentencing objectives: the promotion of public safety, the infliction of retributive punishment, and the rehabilitation of offenders. We conclude that public safety was the predominant concern of the participants when evaluating biomedical treatment offered at the time of sentencing to offenders who had committed serious crimes. Another important observation was that the public tended to reframe and evaluate biomedical interventions in terms of retribution and punishment, rather than rehabilitation and reform.


Criminal justice Rehabilitation Retribution Public safety Thematic analysis Biocriminology 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Ottawa, Centre for Health Law, Policy and EthicsOttawaCanada

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