News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Policing the Teen Brain

By Jeff Bostic, Lisa Thurau, Mona Potter, and Stacy Drury | February 2014 | Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

More than 100 years after the creation of the juvenile court, state juvenile justice policies still promote adult approaches, despite consistent neurobiological evidence that the adolescent brain processes, perceives, and responds differently than adult brains. Although frequently the first responders in youth cases, police officers rarely receive adequate training in effective communication and interaction strategies with youth. Strategies for Youth found that most police academies contacted devote less than 1% of training to interactions with adolescents,1 yet 20% to 40% of juvenile arrests are for “contempt of cop” offenses, such as questioning or “disrespecting” an officer.2 Incarceration of adolescents fails to decrease recidivism and compounds the negative impacts on the 60% to 70%3 of youth in correctional facilities who have significant untreated mental health problems.4 We found that police officer training in neurodevelopmentally sensitive techniques markedly decreased teen arrests and improved police–teen interactions in diverse American communities. Continue reading »

Nature Neuroscience Special Issue: Focus on pain

The February 2014 issue of Nature Neuroscience presented a special issue on the neurobiology of pain and itch. The seminal issue includes many important papers exploring this research topic. Click here to view the issue on Nature Neuroscience, or read below for the editors’ research review and highlights of the state of pain research:

“Pain can be defined simply as the subjective experience of harm in a part of one’s body. In reality, however, there are multiple forms of pain, which involve a variety of distinct biological processes. Exposure to extreme heat, cold or pressure can be noxious, triggering nociceptive pain. Inflammatory pain, involving the release of cytokines and the infiltration of immune cells, also occurs subsequent to injury, but can be triggered independently by bacterial infections. Although pain has an important physiological role in preserving the integrity of the body, pathological pain also exists. Nerve damage, in surgery patients for instance, sometimes leads to chronic pain conditions that can last years or even decades. Unfortunately, many pathological pain conditions remain poorly understood and resist currently available treatments. Developing new therapeutic approaches to managing pain will undoubtedly depend on a better understanding of the molecular, cellular and circuit mechanisms underlying acute and chronic pain states, which is the focus of this special Nature Neuroscience issue. In this focus, we present a series of reviews by experts in the field that critically appraise recent research on the neurobiology of pain and itch. Continue reading »

Rewiring juvenile justice: the intersection of developmental neuroscience and legal policy

By Alexandra O. Cohen and BJ Casey | February 2014 | Trends in Cognitive Sciences

The past decade has been marked by historic opinions regarding the culpability of juveniles by the US Supreme Court. In 2005, the death penalty was abolished, 5 years later, life without parole for crimes, other than homicide, was banned, and then just last year, mandatory life sentences for any crime was abolished. The court referenced developmental science in all these cases. In this article, we highlight new scientific findings and their relevance to law and policy.

The past decade has witnessed a series of US Supreme Court decisions relevant to differential treatment of juvenile versus adult offenders that reference developmental science. In 2005 (Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551) the majority held that execution of offenders under the age of 18 violated the Eighth Amendment barring ‘cruel and unusual punishments’. That decision moved nearly 100 inmates off death row in a dozen states. In Graham v. Florida (2010), the Court held that juvenile offenders could not be sentenced to life in prison without parole for nonhomicide crimes. At that time, an estimated 100 inmates were serving Juvenile life without parole sentences for nonhomicide offenses. The 2000 or more inmates serving Juvenile life without parole for homicide were unaffected. Then, just last year (2012) in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court held that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment. The ruling only stated that a juvenile could not be subjected to a mandatory sentence of life without parole. Therefore, inconsistencies in the treatment of juveniles remain, because these laws are regulated predominantly by the state that allows jurisdictions to impose different penalties on juvenile offenders. Continue reading »

Protecting our Parents: Can Science Help?

High-profile schemes to defraud the elderly of their lifetime savings have headlined top newspapers and tabloids alike. There was Brooke Astor, whose son and attorney were convicted of criminal fraud, Anna Nicole Smith and the fight over J. Edgar Marshall’s inheritance, and Huguette Clark, a multi-billionaire who lived for years in a hospital and whose death prompted a criminal investigation into her donations and inheritance. Unfortunately, these notorious cases are merely the tip of a vast and growing iceberg of financial fraud against the elderly. In 2011, Metlife Mature Market Institute estimated an annual loss of $2.9 billion in fraud against elders. Recent surveys indicate that more than 7.3 million Americans over 65 have been victims of financial fraud. As crime rates — and vulnerable populations — increase, the scientific and legal communities must pool our ever-increasing knowledge and resources to protect elderly family members.

Read the full article on the Huffington Post, published February 21, 2014. By Bruce H. Price, MD and Ekaterina Pivovarova, PhD. Written with Judith G. Edersheim, JD, MD.

For further resources on elder fraud and decision making, see the reference materials from our December 2013 event Capacity, Decision-Making and the Elderly: Brain Science Meets the Law, and follow-up article in the Boston Globe “Scammers take aim at aging population,” by event moderator and Globe reporter Kay Lazar.

 

Flaws Persist in L.I.R.R.’s Disability Claims, a Report Finds

By Walt Bogdanich | The New York Times | February 21, 2014

A federal watchdog has concluded that the method of granting occupational disability payments to former employees of the Long Island Rail Road is still so flawed that roughly 96 percent of those who apply receive it, roughly the same approval rate as before a vast cheating scandal was first exposed more than five years ago.

Citing his legal obligation to report “particularly serious or flagrant problems,” Martin J. Dickman, the inspector general for the United States Railroad Retirement Board, wrote to the board on Feb. 10, saying he would recommend that the occupational disability program be terminated or severely cut back if significant changes were not made quickly.

The disability fraud at the railroad was revealed in 2008 by The New York Times, which found that virtually every career employee at the railroad was collecting disability payments after retiring early. By claiming disability, the workers were also allowed to play golf for free on state-owned courses. At the time, the railroad’s occupational disability rate was three to four times that of the average railroad. Continue reading »