Critical thinking reveals the difference between an apparent logical correlation and a true causal relation. In that sense, it goes against the general notion of what people call ‘common sense’. Which is never a good yardstick for legal decisions or policy measures. You just cannot state that when someone does something illegal or commits a crime you have to incarcerate that person by definition since you simply cannot generalise.
A magistrate once compared it to punishing his children – sending them to their rooms and the catharsis that ensued – with imprisoning detainees. But that comparison does not hold up at all. Those children never actually leave their trusted environments, can talk about what happened afterward, and consequently take up where they left off in their families. That is no way comparable to the context of a prison.
Critical thinking compels every scientist to self-reflection. In me, that attitude grew from a sense of righteousness, a realisation that the protection of the human dignity of fragile groups, such as detainees, is important. On the one hand, you have to consider the issue of penalisation, on the other hand, there is also the reality of deprivation of freedom and potential human rights violations. Over the last thirty years in Europe, that discord has led to the search for a better balance in the legal status of prisoners. As a legal scholar, criminologist, and human rights activist I attempt to do my part.
Critical thinking furthermore obliges me to continue to critically approach my fundamental values and their possible influence on my own research. Do more rights for detainees have the desired effect? Are there side-effects? And why? Crime and punishment also infer a plethora of emotions.
Critical thinking as a criminologist means that you strive for a rational analysis of a phenomenon while keeping in mind the emotional components thereof since human beings are never purely rational creatures.