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The Joshua Lederberg Papers

Letter from Joshua Lederberg to David Bazelon pdf (142,435 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to David Bazelon
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (142,435 Bytes)
1971-01 (January 1971)
Lederberg, Joshua
Bazelon, David
United States Court of Appeals
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Lederberg Grouping: Correspondence D
Metadata Record Worth of Psychology for Criminals Queried (January 1971) pdf (162,626 Bytes) ocr (4,896 Bytes)
Box Number: 15
Folder Number: 135
Unique Identifier:
Accession Number:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Drafts (documents)
Series: Correspondence, 1935-2002
SubSeries: 1961-1978
Folder: Bazelon, David [2 of 2]
D and [arrow symbol] Bazelon crime justice ns
Dear Dave --
I know that some distortion by the transmission channel (the press) has to be allowed for, but I was a little surprised at the one-sidedness of this account.
For sake of argument I could accept the "social theory" of causation of crime -- though we still have to account for the fact that not every ghetto-born responds in the same way to a pervasively pathogenic environment. So that other variables surely also play a role.
The fact is that we have a serious problem today, and as with many other grave outcomes, we have to consider therapies to limit the damage. Neither the law nor the psychologists can do very much in one generation to reach the fundamental causes -- no more than the virologist can undo the loss of hearing that a deaf infant has suffered from pre-natal rubella. Of course we have to develop the vaccines; but we cannot ignore the children who are already deaf and who can be "rehabilitated".
I agree with you about the shortcomings of the "medical model" of the "hardened" criminal. But what do we do then about the convicted offender?
Before chiding the psychologists about the futility of their efforts you had better come up with better answers than we have heard so far.
The most rational policy (in theory) that I have heard of was transportation, which converted convicts into exiles and then pioneers. We have, alas, no New South Wales of the kind today.
Meanwhile, this kind of news story does little service by confusing the basic s[ . . . ]es and the short-term responses to crime. I have no great faith in deterrence, but its complete abrogation is unlikely to improve the system -- or do you think otherwise. And if there is not some credible response to violent crime by the legal system, more and more of our citizens will (and more and more rationally) take the law into their own hands in "self-defense"!
Did you mean that psychologists should stay out of the problem of crime altogether? Or that they should pay more attention to determining just what aspects of the social milieu are the most dangerous in eliciting crime. "Poverty" is not a very convincing answer. It just does not correlate very well with the incidence of crime in a historical or cross-cultural context. I grant you that "abolishing poverty" would go a long way to reducing crime; but this is a bit tautological. Crime is not only a consequence of, but in a small measure also a cause of social disorganization and poverty.
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