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January 29, 2007 - 8:26 am

Forensic psychologist Stephen K. Erickson has a href=”http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/2007/01/supermaxing_the_brain.html”an interesting post up/a at the Crime Consequences blog regarding a href=”http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1582304-1,00.html”a emTime/em article/a describing the “mistreatment” of violent criminals in Supermax facilities. Dr. Erickson disagrees that supermax prisons are causing madness:br /br /blockquoteProfessor Berman over at Sentencing Law and Policy a href=”http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2007/01/the_case_again_.html”has this post/a on this week’s Time magazine’s feature article on supermax prisons. Professor Berman quotes the Time piece:/blockquotebr /br /”Modern science has confirmed this, with electroencephalograms showing that after a few days in solitary, prisoners’ brain waves shift toward a pattern characteristic of stupor and delirium. When sensory deprivation is added … the breakdown is even worse.”br /br /blockquoteWhat is notable here is that, once again, the popular press and even legal scholars misunderstand how to interpret neuroscience results. There are likely many times during the day when everyone’s brain waves would show a pattern of stupor and delirium. EEG’s reveal brain activity, but they cannot be used exclusively to diagnose. The implication in the Time piece is that supermax prisons are so horrendous that inmates invariably descend into madness. Time proffer’s of the EEG data seems to solidify this conclusion with the certainty of science. Yet, EEG waves “characteristic” of stupor should be accorded little weight as evidence of this claim. Brain waves similar to stupor can appear frequently during “normal life” outside of prison.” /blockquotebr /br /Dr. Erickson points out that supermax prisons do not eliminate sight, sound, and tactile stimulation. The emTimes/em article seems to imply that they do and goes on to suggest that natural lighting, a radio, and TV be put in the supermax cells to ward off madness; what will emTime/em suggest next: that supermax prisons provide violent criminals with a teddy bear and a big hug? You think I’m joking? Just wait, it’s just a matter of time.

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