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

Hard Time Gets a Hard Look by Judge Nancy Gertner

The Harvard Gazette covers a new Harvard Law School course led by CLBB’s Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.), which approaches the problem of mass incarceration from interdisciplinary perspectives. The course, also co-taught by Harvard sociologist Bruce Western and Vincent Schiraldi of Harvard Kennedy School, examines the origins of U.S. mass incarceration and helps students generate solutions to the issue. About the course and faculty, Judge Gertner notes:

“Each of us in different ways has been teaching and working on the problem of criminal justice policy. We thought there would be some unique value in bringing together three perspectives: the social science on problems of crime and criminal justice, the perspective of policy research and analysis, and law.

None of us ever believed that we would be in a world in which people are talking about reducing incarceration and letting people out of prison…. the discussion goes from the abstract to the concrete.”

About her experience with the problem of mass incarceration and commitment to resolving it, she comments on her time as a federal judge:

“Eighty percent of sentences that I was obliged to impose in drug cases were unjust, disproportionate, and inequitable, she told the class of working as judge within a strict sentencing framework ushered in by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. After retiring in 2011, she embarked “on a trajectory of wanting to know more,” she said, and pressing for change.

Read the full article, “Hard Time Gets a Hard Look”, by Colleen Walsh, published by the Harvard Gazette on November 29, 2016.

Did the Man I Sentenced to 18 Years Deserve It?

By Stefan R. Underhill | The New York Times | January 23, 2016

In 2006, I sentenced a man to 18 years in prison. I have been wrestling with that decision ever since.

As a federal district judge, I’ve sentenced hundreds of people, but I’ve rarely agonized as much as I did over this man’s fate. Continue reading »

What Mass Incarceration Looks Like for Juveniles

By Vincent Schiraldi | The New York Times | November 10, 2015

After two decades of researching mass incarceration — and advocating for its demise — I decided in 2005 to take more direct action and accepted a job running corrections departments, first in Washington, D.C., then in New York City. It was a rude awakening. Continue reading »

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 »

10 year-old murder defendant shows failure of US juvenile justice system

By Christopher Moraff | The Daily Beast | October 18, 2014

If Pennsylvania had set out to intentionally highlight the glaring defects in the U.S. juvenile justice system, it couldn’t have picked a better case than one initiated this week in rural Wayne County.

On Monday, prosecutors there charged a ten-year old boy as an adult for the murder of an elderly woman under the care of his grandfather—making him one of the youngest Americans ever to face a criminal homicide conviction. Continue reading »