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

WATCH — Second Chance Kids

CLBB’s Dr. Robert Kinscherff offers commentary on the changing landscape of juvenile justice, especially for offenders who were previously serving life sentences without parole. In this new FRONTLINE documentary, “Second Chance Kids”, he discusses the implications of the Supreme Court ruling that changed everything (Miller v. Alabama) and the role neuroscience research played in shaping such a monumental decision. The following article (also quoting Dr. Kinscherff) accompanied the FRONTLINE documentary.
Continue reading »

States Raising the Age for Adult Prosecution Back to 18

In this article by the American Bar Association Journal, CLBB’s Dr. Judith Edersheim offers insight into how adolescent brain development research has propelled the argument against incarcerating teens with adults. After describing the unique neurodevelopmental occurrences that are a feature of adolescence — and how they might influence behavior –, she comments on the dangers of incarcerating teenagers with older adults:

“If you don’t provide an adolescent with an opportunity to develop a social competency or self-esteem, if you don’t put them in contact with pro-social peers, then you’re setting trajectories which actually might persist through adulthood. Adolescents are really these neurologic sponges for their environment.”

Read the full article, “States Raising Age for Adult Prosecution Back to 18”, published by the ABA Journal on February 1, 2017.

Dr. Edersheim on Why Juvenile Murderers in America Now Have a Shot at Parole

CLBB Co-Director Dr. Judith Edersheim‘s expert opinion was featured in an article with VICE on the recent Supreme Court ruling in Montgomery v. Alabama, asserting that the Court’s decision in 2012 banning life without parole sentences for juvenile defendants applied retroactively. In describing the neurological differences between adolescents and adults, Dr. Edersheim notes,

“Adolescence is a period of time when the brain is hyper plastic. It’s a period of rapidly-changing brain. Adolescents are supposed to take risks. That’s what their neurotransmitters and their brains are telling them. But they calculate risks differently from grown ups, and it has an evolutionary purpose and a neurological basis.”

The article further reports:

“According to Edersheim, the adolescent brain undergoes a period of ‘pruning’ before adulthood. So it’s not that teens just turn into crazy people—rather, their brains begin to learn to ‘process efficiently.’  And to do that, they need to take cues from their surroundings.

The neuroscience, she says, debunked the myth of the young ‘superpredator’ that preceded it.”

Read the full article, “Why Juvenile Murderers in America Now Have a Shot at Parole“, by Susan Zalkind, published by VICE on February 1, 2016.

Justices Expand Parole Rights for Juveniles Sentenced to Life for Murder

Over the past decade, the Supreme Court has issued a series of landmark decisions around the criminal culpability of adolescents, drawing from neuroscience research. In 2005, the Court abolished the juvenile death penalty. In 2010, the Court banned life without parole for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide. And in 2012, the Court prohibited states from mandating life without parole for any crimes committed by minors. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that its 2012 decision must be applied retroactively, impacting over 2,000 people currently serving life sentences.

By Adam Liptak | The New York Times | January 25, 2016

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that its 2012 decision banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile killers must be applied retroactively, granting a new chance at release for hundreds of inmates serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for murders they committed in their youth.

The vote was 6 to 3, and the majority decision was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the court’s leading proponent of cutting back on the death penalty and other harsh punishments for entire classes of offenders. His opinion strengthened the 2012 decision, which merely required new sentencing where life without parole had been imposed automatically, without taking into account the defendant’s youth.

Monday’s opinion indicated that life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders should be exceedingly rare. Justice Kennedy also gave states a second option — instead of resentencing the affected prisoners, they could make them eligible for parole. Continue reading »

“And if Your Friends Jumped Off a Bridge, Would you Do it Too?” – How Developmental Neuroscience can Inform Legal Regimes Governing Adolescence

By Michael N. Tennison and Amanda C. Pustilnik | Indiana Health Law Review

Introduction

On September 17, 2014, a teen boy riding in the front seat of an SUV on the highway at night had a brilliant idea: If he set the driver’s armpit hair on fire, it might impress the girls in the back. It did not turn out quite the way he planned. “Teen Setting Underarm Hair On Fire Causes Rollover Crash,” reported news outlets the next day. The SUV ran into a ditch, flipped over, and threw three of the five occupants—all teenagers, none of whom were wearing seat belts—out onto the highway. Miraculously, no one was killed.

This story is humorous and serious all at once. Humorous, because it embodies a head-shaking truth long acknowledged in our and other cultures about the crazy things kids do. Serious, because the thoughtless yet typical action of one boy could have seriously hurt or killed these four children and possibly other people on the highway that night. And it has a serious message: Teens are different from adults, on average, particularly in ways that relate to the overvaluation of present rewards and sensations, the undervaluation of negative risk, the tremendous salience of their desire for peer approval, and their tendency to act in even more risky and thoughtless ways when they are together in groups.

Continue reading the article here.