Treating Minds and Testing Brains

A 1957 Life article “What makes a Criminal describes the work of medical personal analyzing criminals. Dr. Ralph Brancale and F. Lovell Bixby at the New Jersey Diagnostic Center relied on an analysis of the psychological and social background of the inmates using, among other methods, hypnosis and truth serums. Doctors at the Wisconsin Diagnostic Center also took lobotomy into consideration. The evaluations described were conducted in order to classify the inmates and determine whether custody or reintegration into society are fit goals. As a possible solution, Brancale suggested the establishment of total institutions comprising of a maximum security section, a mental hospital, and a semi-hospital on the same site to optimize the treatment of the inmates.

What Makes a Criminal?

"What Makes a Criminal", Life magazine, 1957

The actual ability of prisons to treat was continuously debated. A 1958 article in Look featured the story of a juvenile sexual offender and condemned the system that led to his failed – or even completely absent – treatment in prison: "We're not in this case molding a mind for society – to my way of thinking, we're molding a mind for criminal interests."

The Strange Boy: The True Personal Story of A Youthful Sex Killer

“The Strange Boy: The True Personal Story of A Youthful Sex Killer"

Between 1961 and 1963, Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner conducted the Concord Prison Experiments at the Concord Prison in Massachusetts. The scientists tried to reduce recidivism by administering psyclobin to 32 prisoners during group psychotherapy. Leary had encountered the psychoactive drug derived from mushrooms during his stay in Mexico and, as discussed in the Experimenting trace, conducted extensive personal experimentation with psychoactive drugs. Although the results were considered positive at the time, they were questioned in follow up studies.

Tim Leary and Ralph Metzner

Dr. Tim Leary and Dr. Ralph Metzner, the Harvard Professors who conducted the Concord Prison Experiments. Much of their collaborative work has been collected by the Tim Leary Archive Project.