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

MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice

The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice seeks to expand the base of knowledge about the origins, development, prevention, and treatment of juvenile crime and delinquency; to disseminate that knowledge to professionals and the public; to improve decision-making in the current system; and to prepare the way for the next generation of reform in juvenile justice policy and practice.

Visit the Network’s site to learn more about their research, publications, and resources. Also, explore the Resource Centers established to focus on areas critical to continued advancements in juvenile justice.

An Anxious Defendant or an Anxious Defense Team?

By Judith Edersheim, JD, MD; CLBB Co-director

Yesterday, Paralympian Oscar Pistorius presented himself to Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital to begin a month long psychiatric evaluation. This evaluation was ordered by the judge presiding in his case after his defense attorney called a witness to describe his mental state at the time he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Merryll Vorster testified that Mr. Pistorius suffers from a generalized anxiety disorder, and that when faced with a “fight or flight situation,” his instinct is to fight. The defense team’s introduction of this kind of evidence this late in the game opened a kind of psychiatric second front for the prosecution. Did introduction of this evidence signal that Mr. Pistorius is backing away from the claim that he acted reasonably in favor of the idea that he acted under the influence of a mental disorder? Is there credible evidence that he had a serious mental disorder and, if so, would it “count” for exculpation or mitigation? Could a closer examination of these claims “backfire” and seal Mr. Pistorius’ fate? Continue reading »

Why Doctors Can’t Identify Killers

By Richard Friedman | May 27, 2014 | The New York Times

Mass killers like Elliot Rodger teach society all the wrong lessons about the connection between violence, mental illness and guns — and what we should do about it. One of the biggest misconceptions, pushed by our commentators and politicians, is that we can prevent these tragedies if we improve our mental health care system. It is a comforting notion, but nothing could be further from the truth.

And although the intense media attention might suggest otherwise, mass killings — when four or more people are killed at once — are very rare events. In 2012, they accounted for only about 0.15 percent of all homicides in the United States. Because of their horrific nature, however, they receive lurid media attention that distorts the public’s perception about the real risk posed by the mentally ill. Continue reading »

End Mass Incarceration Now

Editorial Board | The New York Times | May 24, 2014

For more than a decade, researchers across multiple disciplines have been issuing reports on the widespread societal and economic damage caused by America’s now-40-year experiment in locking up vast numbers of its citizens. If there is any remaining disagreement about the destructiveness of this experiment, it mirrors the so-called debate over climate change.

In both cases, overwhelming evidence shows a crisis that threatens society as a whole. In both cases, those who study the problem have called for immediate correction.

Several recent reports provide some of the most comprehensive and compelling proof yet that the United States “has gone past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,” and that mass incarceration itself is “a source of injustice.” Continue reading »

Psychiatric Tests Raise Question of Pistorius’s Criminal Liability

By Alan Cowell | The New York Times | May 22, 2014

Oscar Pistorius

In more than just miles, it is a long way from Olympic Stadium in London to the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, but that is the journey that Oscar Pistorius is about to complete.

Less than two years after he was celebrated at the 2012 Olympic Games as the first disabled athlete to compete against able-bodied runners, Mr. Pistorius on Tuesday was ordered by the judge presiding over his murder trial in Pretoria to present himself as an outpatient at the Weskoppies hospital for up to 30 days of psychiatric assessment.

Starting Monday, a panel of mental health experts will seek to determine whether Mr. Pistorius, in the words of Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa, was “capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act or acting in accordance with appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act” when he opened fire on a locked bathroom door at his home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Continue reading »