News and Commentary Archive

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

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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

Undoing the Damage of Mass Incarceration

gertner_150x150By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | November 4, 2015

Over a 17-year judicial career, I sent hundreds of defendants to jail — and about 80 percent of them received a sentence that was disproportionate, unfair, and discriminatory. Mass incarceration was not an abstraction to me. Sadly, I was part of it.

Last weekend’s release of 6,000 prisoners from federal prison is an encouraging start to reform, but it’s only a start.

I was a judge during the most punitive period of US history — the ’90s — when we imprisoned more than any other country, even the most autocratic. I did what I could to mitigate the impact of the laws I had to apply. There were 10-, 15-, and 20-year mandatory sentences for drugs, which made no sense under any rational social policy. There were mandatory-sentencing guidelines, which often led to absurd results. When I made a small downward adjustment, explaining what I did in a written opinion, I risked reversal by an appellate court that saw only sentencing calculations, not people. Continue reading »

Nancy Gertner: “My Drug War Sentences were ‘Unfair and Disproportionate'”

CLBB faculty member Nancy Gertner was featured in The Atlantic for her remarks on the Drug War at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival. Speaking from her 17 years of experience as a federal judge, Gertner likened the damage done by the drug war to the destruction of cities in World War II. From the article:

Among 500 sanctions that [Gertner] handed down, “80 percent I believe were unfair and disproportionate,” she said. “I left the bench in 2011 to join the Harvard faculty to write about those stories––to write about how it came to pass that I was obliged to sentence people to terms that, frankly, made no sense under any philosophy.”

“This is a war that I saw destroy lives,” she said. “It eliminated a generation of African American men, covered our racism in ostensibly neutral guidelines and mandatory minimums… and created an intergenerational problem––although I wasn’t on the bench long enough to see this, we know that the sons and daughters of the people we sentenced are in trouble, and are in trouble with the criminal justice system.”

Read the full piece from The Atlantic, Federal Judge: My Drug War Sentences were ‘Unfair and Disproportionate,'” by Conor Friedersdorf, published June 29, 2015.