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

You’re an Adult. Your Brain, Not So Much.

CLBB Faculty Member Leah Somerville and her work on adolescent development are featured in the following article, which highlights the difficulty in determining a distinct line between adolescence and adulthood. Additional coverage about how her work intersects with the CLBB can be found here.

By Carl Zimmer | The New York Times | December 21, 2016

Leah H. Somerville, a Harvard neuroscientist, sometimes finds herself in front of an audience of judges. They come to hear her speak about how the brain develops.

It’s a subject on which many legal questions depend. How old does someone have to be to be sentenced to death? When should someone get to vote? Can an 18-year-old give informed consent?

Scientists like Dr. Somerville have learned a great deal in recent years. But the complex picture that’s emerging lacks the bright lines that policy makers would like. Continue reading »

WATCH — Half a Life

Click poster to enlarge.

Click poster to enlarge.

Youth convicted of murder ordinarily serve decades in prison before they complete a sentence or are paroled. At the time of release, many of them have spent at least half of their entire life and all of their adulthood incarcerated with adults in prisons.  What are the outcomes for these youth when released in adulthood?  Do they commit crimes in their communities or perhaps kill again? What lessons for law, correctional practice and public policy can be drawn from their outcomes?  This event continues the discussion that began with the April 2016 event “Boys to Men to Boys.”  The presenters will make the first presentation of their original research findings on outcomes of youth convicted of murder and examine other behavioral science and neurodevelopmental research to frame a conversation about whether or how current law, policy, and practice might be informed by the lives these men lead upon release.

This event will take place on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 12:00 pm in Austin Hall, North Classroom (100), Harvard Law School.

Continue reading »

Dr. Robert Kinscherff Answers: Should We Ever Sentence Juveniles as Adults? (VIDEO)

CLBB Faculty Member Dr. Robert Kinscherff spoke on Tuesday, May 10, at Harvard Law School about juvenile justice and the treatment of adolescents versus adults within the criminal justice system. The event, hosted by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, was free and open to the public. About the event:

Nearly a quarter of a million youth are tried, sentenced, or imprisoned as adults every year across the United States. On any given day, ten thousand youth are detained or incarcerated in adult jails and prisons.

Putting a human face to these sobering statistics, Boy With A Knife tells the story of Karter Kane Reed, who, at the age of sixteen, was sentenced to life in an adult prison for a murder he committed in 1993 in a high school classroom. Twenty years later, in 2013, he became one of the few men in Massachusetts to sue the Parole Board and win his freedom.

The emotional and devastating narrative takes us step by step through Karter’s crime, trial, punishment, and survival in prison, as well as his readjustment into regular society. In addition to being a powerful portrayal of one boy trying to come to terms with the consequences of his tragic actions, Boy With A Knife is also a searing critique of the practice of sentencing youth to adult prisons, providing a wake-up call on how we must change the laws in this country that allow children to be sentenced as adults. Continue reading »

WATCH — Boys to Men to Boys

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Click poster to enlarge.

Approximately 2,000 youth sentenced to life without parole are now serving unconstitutional sentences in US prisons. What is the role for psychology and neuroscience in re-sentencing and parole after Miller and Montgomery?

Join two experts in forensic psychology, law and juvenile justice policy, for a discussion of the dilemmas posed after the Supreme Court’s recent decision to ban mandatory life without possibility of parole for juvenile homicides (Miller v. Alabama, 2012) and then this year to retroactively apply this decision to some 2,000 incarcerated individuals (Montgomery v. Louisiana, 2016).

The event will be held at 12:00 pm on Wednesday, April 13, in Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East C (2036) at Harvard Law School (1585 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA).

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be served.

Continue reading »

Humanizing Pain: Advocacy, Policy and Law on Abortion, Execution and Juvenile Life Without Parole

By Robert Kinscherff, Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience

I recently attended a presentation on Fetal Pain: An Update on the Science and Legal Implications, jointly sponsored by the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior (Massachusetts General Hospital) and the Petrie-Flom Center (Harvard Law School). Presenters were Amanda Pustilnik, JD (University of Maryland School of Law) and Maureen Strafford, MD (Tufts University School of Medicine). Video of the event is available on the website, and I encourage everyone to watch the full discussion for themselves.

Doctor Strafford delivered a masterful overview of the trajectory of scientific perspective and research about children and pain. Over the course of her career, the medical perspective has transformed from “children do not feel pain” to “children do not remember pain” to inquiry into “when and how children feel pain.” Strafford described the medical complexities of understanding the physical and subjective aspects of pain as well as the impossibility of confidently “pinpointing” the exact point in fetal development when a neonate experiences pain.

Professor Pustilnik gave an equally compelling review of law and legal language regarding abortion, particularly law that specifically references fetal pain as a reason for limiting abortion.   This served to frame a conversation about pain and suffering in the law and the ways in which law reflects normative considerations and provides rhetoric (viewed respectively by partisans as “compelling” or “inflammatory”) to political discourse. In this case, discourse about fetal pain both attracts attention and is intended to facilitate empathy for the neonate.

Taken together, Pustilnik and Strafford made a powerful case that the current discourse about fetal pain reflects a strategic communication strategy intended to advance the cause of abortion opponents. Continue reading »