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

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 »

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.

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 »