Project on Agency, Character & Identity

There is wide agreement that offenders are typically not well prepared for returning to social and economic life upon their release. Given the backgrounds of many offenders and their experience of incarceration, it is likely that they undervalue their own capacities as agents.  If character and judicious use of freedom are core democratic values, the experience of imprisonment does nothing to foster these values, and in contrast, may call for mitigation.

 What are the implications of taking the importance of character seriously  with respect to imprisonment and its aftermath?

This is not a question about whether character-based considerations should have a role in sentencing. It concerns the significance of character for understanding important aspects of criminal sanction, reentry, and reintegration. Character is a nexus at which several important types of considerations meet. These include matters concerning cognition, the emotions, motivation, deliberation, decision, and persons’ self-conceptions. Whether or not a person’s character is a matter of direct interest to the state, character is explanatorily and ethically significant. Fuller understanding of the relevance and significance of character will illuminate numerous issues regarding practices and policies intended to assist people leaving prison.

If character is understood to be dynamic and aspirational, rather than a stable set of dispositions, many people leave prison ready to develop pro-social character.  The programs and supports available to people leaving prison promote the desired changes in behavior in diverse ways.  Each of these types of programs: cognitive – behavioral programs, addiction treatment programs, anger management programs and educational programs – employs a distinct view of how change in human decision -making takes place.

The project on Agency, Character & Identity is engaged in research into the methodology and efficacy of these programs, with the objective of uniting the new  neuroscience research to the practical goals of those who assist people leaving prison.     

  Use the links below to read more about the work on this project.

                  Normative focus              Empirical focus