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This article is a contribution to a symposium issue of the Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review devoted to whether severe environmental deprivation, sometimes termed rotten social background, should be a defense to crime and why it has not been adopted. I begin by presenting the framework I apply for thinking about such problems. I then identify the main theses Professors Richard Delgado and Andrew Taslitz present and consider their merits. Next, I turn to the arguments of the other papers by Professors Paul Robinson, Erik Luna and Angela Harris. I make two general arguments: first, that SED or any other potentially powerful predisposing cause of crime should not per se be a defense to crime that excuses or mitigates criminal responsibility; and second, that criminal law defenses to responsibility are crucial to the just adjudication of guilt and innocence, but they are not an appropriate means to remedy undoubted social, biological, and psychological problems. I conclude that no jurisdiction has adopted the defense because it is conceptually unjustifiable and empirically unworkable. SED is a tragedy, but it should not be a defense to crime. Finally, I conclude with a number of criminal justice reform suggestions, including many that I believe the other writers would endorse.


Criminal law and procedure, defenses, excuse, severe environmental deprivation, SED, predisposition, compulsion, mental disorder, blame, injustice, Social Moral Forfeit, SMF, social justice, coercive indoctrination, responsibility for character, social privilege, neoliberalism, culture of control, therapeutic culture

Publication Title

Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review

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Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 2, Pg. 147, 2011