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Medicalized Metamorphosis: Biological Rehabilitation of Criminal Offenders

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Convicted offenders who consent to medical treatment may secure a preferable sentence. They make these decisions within a hybrid medico-legal system that often views offenders as neurobiological subjects and deviant behavior as a medical problem that may be addressed, in part, through biological intervention. In this article, we use Foucault’s concepts of biopower and governmentality to explore how 15 men and 10 women convicted of criminal offenses view “coerced” consent to biological interventions in the criminal justice context. The participants largely accepted the key components of the medico-legal system of social control, including the medicalization of criminalized behavior, the utility of rehabilitation via medical treatment, and the internalization of the governmental ideals of self-control and responsibility. None challenged the use of biological treatments, although many rejected invasive and risky therapies, and most felt that biological approaches should be accompanied by psychological counseling. While governmental ideals were largely internalized, the participants expressed resistance in several ways, through statements of distrust of the system and resentment of pressure to consent to treatment.

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  1. For example, chlorpromazine was used originally for allergy relief before it became an antipsychotic drug, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were prescribed initially for depression and are now sometimes used to suppress libido in sex offenders.

  2. The acronym LTO refers to a “long term offender” under the Criminal Code of Canada. An LTO is typically subject to a “long term supervision order” at the conclusion of the sentence, which requires that the individual be monitored for up to ten years upon release from prison.


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The authors are grateful to the participants for sharing their views with us and to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for financial support for this research. We also acknowledge the invaluable research assistance of Natasha Knack and Adina Ilea.

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Correspondence to Jennifer A. Chandler.

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Chandler, J.A., Kilty, J. & Holmes, D. Medicalized Metamorphosis: Biological Rehabilitation of Criminal Offenders. Crit Crim 29, 549–567 (2021).

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