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

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 »

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.

Dr. Edersheim on What Obama’s Solitary Confinement Reforms Mean for Inmates

CLBB Co-Director Dr. Judith Edersheim was quoted in a FRONTLINE article on President Barack Obama’s recent announcement of his commitment to reduce the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons, particularly by ending the use of isolation on inmates under the age of 18. On the harmful effects of solitary confinement on adolescents in particular, Dr. Edersheim states,

“Adolescents are neurological sponges for their environment, and if those environments are toxic it can permanently alter their brain development in all the ways we need them to develop. Solitary confinement is arguably the worst neurotoxin in that sense.”

Read the full piece from FRONTLINE, “What Obama’s Solitary Reforms Mean for Inmates“, by Sarah Childress, published on January 26, 2016.