News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.


The Center for Law, Brain & Behavior puts the most accurate and actionable neuroscience in the hands of judges, lawyers, policymakers and journalists—people who shape the standards and practices of our legal system and affect its impact on people’s lives. We work to make the legal system more effective and more just for all those affected by the law.

When School Feels Like Jail

The Marshall Project’s Eli Hager reports on the growing use of “alternative schools” — isolated classrooms, where students are often met with corporal punishment and humiliating treatment — as a way to lower suspension rates among rural schools in the South.

By Eli Hager | The Marshall Project | November 11, 2015

Rockmon Montrell “Rock” Allen, an 18-year-old from Jackson, Mississippi, has never gone to jail. But school, he says, was close enough. At Ridgeland High School, a large public school in an increasingly black suburb of Jackson, he was punished repeatedly for what seemed like minor reasons.

In the ninth grade, when he wore the wrong-color uniform or didn’t tuck in his shirt, Rock got “whooped,” as he puts it. That meant bending over, putting his hands on a desk, and getting hit three to five times on the backside with a flat wooden paddle. Mississippi is one of only four states—the others are Alabama, Georgia, and Texas—where school districts frequently use corporal punishment on students (although 19 states allow the practice by law). Teachers and administrators openly use paddles—and, in rarer cases, belts, rulers, and key chains—to whip kids into order. Continue reading »

Should Cops Get to Review the Video Before They Report?

By Kathy Pezdek | The Marshall Project | August 13, 2015

The scenario is all too familiar. A police officer with a dash-cam or body camera stops an individual, the situation escalates, the individual is apprehended, a charge is made and the individual is arrested. The question is whether prior to being questioned or even prior to writing a report, should the officer be permitted to view the recorded footage?

Philip Eure, the Department of Investigation’s Inspector General for the NYPD, recently recommended that police officers be prevented from viewing recorded footage before giving a statement to investigators. Quick to respond, New York’s City Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton called this “one of the recommendations of the I.G. that we strongly, strongly disagree with and will not support under any circumstance.” His concern was enhancing the integrity of police officers; “I am not intending to use the cameras to play a game of gotcha with the cops.”

This is a complex issue, but one for which cognitive science research provides a clear answer. If the purpose of any investigation is to get the most complete, accurate information possible, then it could be argued that the officer should view the footage, probably multiple times, prior to being questioned and prior to testifying. Human memory is notoriously flawed, but we can consider recorded footage to be “ground truth.” So according to this argument, bolstering the officer’s account by having him view the recorded footage effectively serves to enhance the accuracy of the officer’s report. And it does.

The problem is that in so doing, two independent lines of evidence – the officer’s eyewitness memory and the recorded footage – are no longer two independent lines of evidence. That is, the eyewitness memory of the officer has been tainted by viewing the recorded footage. If in the prosecution of the case the officer is to serve as an eyewitness, and his memory is to be preserved untainted, then it is critical that the officer not view the footage. Continue reading »

Where Law and Order Meets Paranoid and Schizophrenic

By Alysia Santo | The Marshall Project | March 18, 2015

Doctors tell Ronald he is schizophrenic, but he doesn’t believe them. For the past few weeks, he’s been an inmate and patient on the 19th floor of Bellevue Hospital, where mentally ill prisoners, mostly from Rikers Island, are held in a ward called the forensic unit.

Just down the hall from the forensic unit is a small courtroom, where Ronald (name changed to maintain patient privacy) appeared on a recent Tuesday in his light-blue hospital pajamas and slippers, his hands and feet cuffed. This is not the court where Ronald will be tried for the felony he’s facing, if indeed he ever gets to trial. The issue here — the only issue in Room 19E2 — is whether the mentally ill can be treated against their will. Ronald was refusing to take medication, so Bellevue applied to the court to administer antipsychotic drugs over his objection. “I used to have a mental illness in the past, but not anymore,” Ronald insisted to Judge Arthur Engoron, who was tasked with deciding between the patient and the hospital. Continue reading »

The 17-Year-Old Adults

By Maurice Chammah | The Atlantic | 3 March 2015

If you’re 17 years old and arrested for a crime, where you go depends mostly on what state you happen to live in. Although prosecutors and judges are usually able to pull teenagers out of the juvenile court system and charge them as adults if the crime is severe enough, nine states automatically classify 17-year-olds as adults. In North Carolina and New York, 16-year-olds always face adult courts.

But these states are the holdouts. In the last few years, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Connecticut have raised the age of who is automatically considered an adult by the criminal justice system to 18. Plenty of policymakers still believe that certain individuals merit adult prison time no matter their age, but as a matter of blanket policy, lawmakers are increasingly setting the age of adult “criminal responsibility” at 18, citing the fact that adolescent brains are still developing at age 17 — and continue developing well into the 20s — and that these youths are particularly vulnerable to abuse in adult prisons. Continue reading »

Reflections on Roper

By Andrew Cohen | The Marshall Project | 2 March 2015

It has been exactly ten years since the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Roper v. Simmons, a 5-4 decision that declared that the Eighth Amendment precluded the imposition of the death penalty for murderers who committed their capital crimes before they turned 18. Predictably, the justices were sharply divided about this important and new national restriction on capital punishment in America. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, cited the “susceptibility” of juveniles to “immature and irresponsible behavior.” Justice Antonin Scalia, in typically blunt tones, said in the leading dissent that the ruling made a “mockery” of the Court’s capital precedent.

Few people in U.S. know more about the Roper decision than Victor Streib, a professor of law at Ohio Northern University, who has devoted decades of his professional life to the study of capital punishment. Streib’s work was cited in Roper by Justice Kennedy, and over the past ten years, the academic has been no less diligent in watching the legacy of this important case develop, both at the Supreme Court and among lower federal and state courts.

Continue reading »