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

Chism Defense to Focus on Juvenile Brain Development as Prosecution Rests

By Rupa Shenoy | WGBH | December 1, 2015

The murder trial of 16-year-old Philip Chism case is playing out as the state and country dramatically changes the way it adjudicates juvenile crime. For the defense team, that means there are very specific things to prove as the jury decides whether Chism is or is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecutors for the Commonwealth rested their case Monday against Chism, who is charged with first-degree murder with atrocity and cruelty. Chism, of Danvers, is charged as an adult in the death of his math teacher, Colleen Ritzer. Continue reading »

The Truth About Gun Violence and Mental Illness

By Judith Edersheim | The Huffington Post | August 18, 2015

Written with Olamide Abiose, M.Ed.

The recent shooting tragedies — Lafayette, Chattanooga — and the recent sentencing of Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, have once again thrust mental illness into the center of our national dialogue. A wave of politicians and public figures — from Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and the National Rifle Association — have proposed legislation encouraging greater public access to mental health records, as key to addressing gun violence. It seems many Americans are operating under Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s logic: “Look, every time this happens, it seems like the person has a history of mental illness. We need to make sure that the systems in place actually work.”

While it’s always refreshing to see high-profile calls for a properly functioning mental health system, one has to wonder, where were such calls when we learned that there are ten times as many mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in mental health institutions? Where was the outrage when state budgets slashed funding for psychiatric services, and cut nearly $4.5 billion in services to the mentally ill between 2009 and 2012? Where was the public support for increased access to mental health treatment after The Washington Post recently reported that a person in the throes of a mental health crisis is shot and killed by the police every 36 hours?

Why didn’t we care that the system didn’t work then? Continue reading »

A Psychologist as Warden? Jail and Mental Illness Intersect in Chicago

By Timothy Williams | The New York Times | July 30, 2015

CHICAGO — Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, who runs the sprawling Cook County Jail here, has an indelible childhood memory of police officers pounding on the aluminum walls of the family’s double-wide trailer home in North Carolina, rifling through cupboards and drawers, and arresting her father on charges of selling marijuana.

Dr. Jones Tapia, then 8, had to call her mother home from work.

Over the next several years, other relatives, including two brothers, and a number of friends also spent time in jail. She says she might have ended up there, too.

Instead, she became fascinated by psychology and earned a doctorate. She began working at Cook County Jail in 2006, and this spring became its unlikely warden when she was promoted to executive director — one of the first clinical psychologists to run a jail, underscoring how much the country’s prisons have become holding centers for the mentally ill.  Continue reading »

Mental Illness Drives Hospitalizations for Detained California Youth

By Arash Anoshiravani, Olga Saynina, Lisa Chamberlain, Benjamin A. Goldstein, Lynne C. Huffman, N. Ewen Wang, and Paul H. Wise | Journal of Adolescent Health | July 21, 2015

Abstract:

Purpose

The purpose of the study was to describe inpatient hospitalization patterns among detained and nondetained youth in a large, total population of hospitalized adolescents in California.

Methods

We examined the unmasked California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development Patient Discharge Dataset from 1997 to 2011. We considered hospitalized youth aged 11–18 years “detained” if admitted to California hospitals from detention, transferred from hospital to detention, or both. We compared discharge diagnoses and length of stay between detained youth and their nondetained counterparts in the general population.

Results

There were 11,367 hospitalizations for detained youth. Hospitalizations differed for detained versus nondetained youth: 63% of all detained youth had a primary diagnosis of mental health disorder (compared with 19.8% of nondetained youth). Detained girls were disproportionately affected, with 74% hospitalized for a primary mental health diagnosis. Detained youth hospitalized for mental health disorder had an increased median length of stay compared with nondetained inpatient youth with mental illness (≥6 days vs. 5 days, respectively). This group difference was heightened in the presence of minority status, public insurance, and concurrent substance abuse. Hospitalized detained youth discharged to chemical dependency treatment facilities had the longest hospital stays (≥43 days).

Conclusions

Detained juvenile offenders are hospitalized for very different reasons than the general adolescent population. Mental illness, often with comorbid substance abuse, requiring long inpatient stays, represents the major cause for hospitalization. These findings underscore the urgent need for effective, well-coordinated mental health services for youth before, during, and after detention.

Read the full article here.

In US Prisons, Psychiatric Disability Is Often Met by Brute Force

By Kanya D’Almeida | Truthout | July 18, 2015

They called it the “shoe leather treatment” because that was exactly what it was: 10 or 11 guards, sometimes more, would form a circle around the patient and kick him unconscious. Then they’d drag him across the room, strip him naked and throw him in a tiny room with just one window to allow in the snow, and leave him there to freeze.

That was in 1961 in Pennsylvania’s Farview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

Twenty years later, the routine abuse that took place there became the subject of a memoir by Bill Thomas who survived 10 years in that institution before breaking out and eventually testifying before a Special State Senate Committee Inquiry on the practices of administrators, guards and even doctors at Farview State Hospital.

The facility has since been closed down, as were thousands of others like it during the wave of “deinstitutionalization” in the 1960s and ’70s. Some state mental hospitals remain, but they are much less prevalent than they once were.

However, the shoe leather treatment lives on in jails and prisons around the country, which have become surrogate institutions for people with mental illnesses and where violence, neglect and abuse of prisoners labeled with psychiatric disabilities is on the rise.

Continue reading »