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

After Horton case, Massachusetts fell behind on criminal justice

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | May 18, 2014

Anyone of a certain age remembers Willie Horton. Furloughed in 1986 from a life sentence for murder, Horton, who is black, raped a white woman and assaulted her fiancé. But Horton’s legacy extends beyond the horrific crime he committed.

Many have blamed Governor Michael Dukakis’s failed presidential bid that year on publicity surrounding the case. Less often discussed is how far Horton’s crime set back criminal justice reform in Massachusetts — and still does to this day.

We like to think of Massachusetts as a progressive state, and it was on crime, too — until Horton. Indeed, except for our prohibition of the death penalty, there is little to set us apart from the Southern states that many in the Commonwealth consider overly punitive. Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina have all gone farther to reduce prison populations than Massachusetts. Horton’s shadow persists, silencing politicians who would be smart on crime rather than mindlessly tough. Continue reading »

More laws, more violence?

By Nancy Gertner and Emily Baker-White | The Boston Globe | April 21, 2014

MORE IS NOT a rational criminal justice policy. Whenever there is a horrendous crime, we respond, without fail, with more — more and more imprisonment, higher and higher penalties. Think Len Bias, the Celtics prospect, whose untimely death from drugs unleashed onerous drug penalties we now know did not make us safer and, worse, created an imprisonment rate which we can no longer afford. Now, it is Jennifer Martel, whose tragic death, allegedly at the hands of Jared Remy, has led to bipartisan shrieks for more punishment. More punishment surely makes us feel better; better yet, it plays nicely on the evening news or in gubernatorial campaigns. More imprisonment, however, does not mean less crime, especially with domestic violence.

In response to Martel’s killing, the Massachusetts House of Representatives fast-tracked legislation that includes measures that may well lead to more violence. It creates new offenses for first-time restraining order violations, first-time assaults and batteries on a household member, suffocation, and strangulation. It also increases penalties — including prison sentences — for these and other domestic violence offenses. It labels many of these offenses felonies. If passed by the Senate, it will surely lead to more people going to prison, remaining there longer, and being disabled by a felony conviction when they get out.

Read the full op-ed here.

Locking up kids for life?

By Davide Bonazzi for the Boston Globe

Three decades ago, Edward Palmariello, 17, and his 21-year-old friend Bruce Chambers were arrested in the murder of Edward’s mother, Marion. Then a defense attorney, I represented Edward at trial. The jury found both men guilty and the sentence was mandatory — life in prison without any possibility of parole.

In most countries, Edward’s sentence would have been impossible. Juvenile life without parole is prohibited by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child , a measure that has been ratified by every UN nation except the United States and Somalia (Somalia announced in November that it will ratify). Edward has spent the past 32 years in jail. He had no hope, no future. Perhaps, until now.

Continue reading »

Speaking Out for Imprisoned Women

By Nancy Gertner and Judith Resnik | Sept 3, 2013 | The Boston Globe

Just as Attorney General Eric Holder was rightly decrying the impact of onerous drug sentences for low-level, nonviolent offenders this summer, the federal Bureau of Prisons began to implement plans that would dramatically increase the burdens of imprisonment on women inmates. The sole federal prison for women in the Northeast — a facility for 1,100 in Danbury, Conn. — is scheduled to be converted into an institution for men, and many of the female prisoners will be transferred to rural Alabama, making family visits virtually impossible.

Only 200 beds for women will remain in Danbury, attached in a lower-security camp — far too few to hold the roughly 900 women from the Northeast who receive federal prison sentences each year.

Read the Full Piece at BOSTONGLOBE.COM.