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

Facebook is Re-Sculpting Our Memory

CLBB Scientific Faculty Member Dr. Daniel Schacter, an expert on the neuroscience of memory, is extensively quoted in this Quartz article examining how social media shapes our memories.

By Olivia Goldhill | Quartz | July 16, 2017

For much of history, the only way to chronicle life was to write about it. Now, many of us take selfies on our smartphones to share on Facebook, and create picturesque albums of our daily meals on Instagram. And as the mediums we use to recall and review the past change, so do our very memories. Continue reading »

When Is Speech Violence?

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | July 14, 2017

Imagine that a bully threatens to punch you in the face. A week later, he walks up to you and breaks your nose with his fist. Which is more harmful: the punch or the threat?

The answer might seem obvious: Physical violence is physically damaging; verbal statements aren’t. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

But scientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sickalter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life. Continue reading »

19-Year-Olds Don’t Belong in Adult Prisons

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | June 20, 2017

Governor Baker introduced a criminal justice bill in February to great fanfare. Designed to give prisoners incarcerated on mandatory minimum sentences access to good-time credit to hasten their release and to provide reentry programming, it received wide bipartisan support — as it should. The justification was clear. “Reducing recidivism,” Baker said, was the bill’s focus. The people of Massachusetts benefit “when more individuals exit the system as law abiding and productive members of the society.”

True enough. Except for those sentenced to life imprisonment, all prisoners get out of jail, and if their needs have not been addressed inside prison, not much will change when they get outside. The bill the governor proposed should help. But measures that would do much much more to address recidivism are pending before the Legislature. Representatives Evandro Carvalho and Kay Khan and Senators Cynthia Creem and Karen Spilka propose to gradually raise the age at which juveniles will be subject to juvenile court jurisdiction to include 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds.

Keeping 18-to-20-year-olds in the juvenile system, where they must attend school and participate in rehabilitative programming, where they are given supervision and intensive services, is the best bet to reduce recidivism. The governor should be championing these bills, as law enforcement representatives already have. Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins and former sheriff Frank Cousins are publicly supporting the bill, because sheriffs know better than anyone what damaging environments adult facilities can be for young people. Our current approach to this age group is a failure, with reoffending being more common than rehabilitation. It is time to try something new, informed by science and aimed at more than incremental change. Continue reading »

Mandatory Minimum Sentences are Cruel and Ineffective. Sessions Wants Them Back.

By Nancy Gertner | The Washington Post | May 15, 2017

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the nation’s 2,300 federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in all but exceptional cases. Rescinding a 2013 policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimums for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Sessions wrote it was the “moral and just” thing to do.

Sessions couldn’t be more wrong. We served as a federal prosecutor and a federal judge respectively. In our experience, mandatory minimums have swelled the federal prison population and led to scandalous racial disparities. They have caused untold misery at great expense. And they have not made us safer. Continue reading »

Judge Gorsuch is More Dangerous Than He Appears

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | April 3, 2017

He sounds so judicial. He talks about neutrality, raising plain vanilla issues about deference to the expertise of administrative agencies. It is boring, hardly likely to engender indignation. He says his decisions are required by the law — not affected by his own background. He is Judge Neil Gorsuch and he may soon be on the Supreme Court. Don’t be fooled. His approach is not neutral, not required by the law, and far out of the mainstream. Quite apart from social issues like abortion or gay rights, his approach could gut health and safety and antidiscrimination laws. Continue reading »