Livia Merrill is a recent graduate from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, where she has received both her B.S. and M.S. in Neuroscience. Her research of 4 years under Dr. Fiona Inglis, PhD, consisted of dendritic morphological changes in the prefrontal cortex of non-human primates after the administration of PCP. Having psychomimetic effects, this model was utilized to contribute to the study of schizophrenia and to provide for more effective anti-psychotics. Her current pursuit is under Dr. Stacy Drury, PhD to examine cortisol levels of pregnant mothers in some of the underprivileged neighborhoods of New Orleans and the epigenetic effects on their offspring. Livia’s future plans consist of research behind deviant behavior and rehabilitating subjects. Ideally, she hopes to contribute to change in the criminal justice system, where punishment can transition to rehabilitation, by demonstrating the negative effects of adverse experiences, including punishment-based systems.
The United States has the largest population of incarcerated individuals in the world; the latest available data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate there are approximately 1.6 million inmates. Such numbers not only reveal the number of imprisoned individuals but also provide an idea of the massive impact on family members, victims, and other members of society. Furthermore, recidivism rates have revealed that one-quarter to two-thirds of released persons from state prisons are rearrested within 3 years.i Personal accounts, governmental reviews, and actions by prison activists and social workers have unveiled the grave conditions of these institutions. Such examples include a 2012 case where Los Angeles deputies were accused of violently beating inmates of the L.A. County Jail Complexii and a case in 2013 where a Mississippi prison for the mentally ill was accused of being understaffed and having deplorable living conditions, such as rat infestations, rampant diseases, sexual assaults, and malnourishment of food and medicinal treatment.iii
|An example of a typical cell in Orleans Parish Prison, New Orleans, LA. (Via therightperspective.org)|
Health and concerns for these men and women are virtually non-existent, such as one prison in Californiaiv that had an appalling amount of suicides last year. A counterargument for lack of concern for incarcerated individuals might include the lack of finances to support such a cause; however, with shorter sentences and reduced willingness to commit nonviolent offenders, there would be funds available to focus on making prison a less negative and oppressing environment, where proper staff, medical care, and basic human rights are concerns. It is important to note that all prison facilities have varying security levels depending on the crime and how violent the offender is considered, with maximum-security prisons undoubtedly having the most questionable conditions concerning the rights of inmates. Under such conditions, we are arguably creating more antisocial individuals than the ones who were originally sentenced. Such transformation can be explicitly seen through past reviews and experiments, like the Stanford Prison Experiment.v This was designed to mimic prison conditions, where research volunteers played the role as guards or prisoners. The experiment lasted only 6 days, despite its original 14-day plan, due to the anxiety, depression, and overall dehumanizing effects on the “prisoners” and the power and aggressive traits that accompanied the “guards.” This experiment in itself portrays the effects of such drastic hierarchies on human emotion, psychology, and action.