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.

Suffolk DA announces diversion program for young adults

Hayden announced a pilot program for young people 18-25 at a panel with nonprofit More Than Words.

By Ivy Scott, Globe Staff, April 27, 2023, 8:42 p.m.

Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden on Thursday announced a new diversion program for young adults ages 18 to 25 that his office plans to launch this summer in the Dorchester Division of Boston Municipal Court.

“The goal is always to keep kids out of the system and give them the opportunity to succeed,” Hayden said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think it was going to work. I know it’ll work, and I believe in very short order we’ll go from Dorchester to Roxbury to Chelsea, and then all through Suffolk County.”

Hayden introduced the diversion program in a panel discussion at More Than Words, a nonprofit bookstore in Boston run by young adults. In addition to operating the bookstore, the nonprofit supports young adults in the foster care system, or who struggle with homelessness or entanglement in the criminal justice system.

Hayden was joined on the panel by Dr. Robert Kinscherff from Harvard’s Center for Law, Brain, & Behavior and Lael Chester from the Columbia University Justice Lab, as well as several young adults.

Chester shared highlights from a new report released by The Justice Lab Thursday on young adult justice entitled “Promising Practices: Pre-Arraignment Diversion for Emerging Adults.” The report summarizes 13 best practices for designing young adult diversion programs, including allowing a young person to be diverted out of the system for multiple incidents, and tailoring services to “the unique needs and interests of each emerging adult.”

Duci Goncalves, head of the Committee for Public Counsel Services Youth Advocacy Division, stressed the importance of collaboration for a successful long-term approach.

“We all want the same things: we want our young adults to be successful, and we want our communities to be safe… [but] if we pour into our communities, that is public safety,” said Goncalves, who was also on the panel. “It’s so easy to get sucked into the system and once you’re in, there’s all these collateral consequences. It interferes with your ability to go to college, to get a job, housing, so many things that trickle down from even stepping foot into the courthouse.”

No one was more supportive of diversion than the young adults on the panel.

Mischael Morency, 24, who is enrolled in a mentoring program at Roca Boston, said he is excited about the expansion of a diversion program in the city.

“All that wasn’t attainable when I needed it, and it delayed my ability to do things like go to college,” said Morency, who is studying business management and finance at the University of Massachusetts Boston with dreams of working in real estate and serving as a mentor to other young men.

“Especially as Black men, we often learn that there’s only one way to express our emotions, and that’s anger,” Morency said. “So it’s awesome to see what will be possible for other guys who look like me in the future.”

The Suffolk County program will feature both pre-arraignment diversion for first-time offenders or young people with a “limited” criminal record, and pre-sentencing diversion for more serious offenses, Hayden said. Successful participants in the pre-arraignment program will never see the charge for which they were arrested appear on their record, while people who complete the pre-sentencing program will have their sentence reduced or, in some situations, their case dismissed entirely.

Hayden said his goal is to “tailor the services being provided and to tailor the timeframe” to the individual.

Some young adults might need nine months in the program while others hit their stride in three, he said.

Young people will also receive a physical wellness check “right off the bat,” he said, which can tell the office some of the individual’s most urgent needs, such as access to stable housing or substance use counseling.

Like the office’s Juvenile Alternative Resolution program, started in 2017, the program will focus on accountability, wellness, and transition out of the justice system.

“The focus will be on pre-arraignment, but we don’t want to limit someone who does get arraigned,” Hayden said, adding that youth outreach organizations such as More Than Words and nonprofit Roca “can make a real difference in someone’s life, and that shouldn’t end just because they get arraigned.”

Read the full Boston Globe article here.

Where Law and Medicine Meet

Dr. Judith Edersheim spoke with Harvard Medicine, the magazine of Harvard Medical School, about bringing neuroscience to the courtroom as co-founder and co-director of the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain & Behavior.

“I have a dream job. Every day is more exciting than the last,” Judith Edersheim exclaims with palpable enthusiasm for her work as director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain & Behavior. The center requires Edersheim to draw daily from her Harvard degrees in medicine and law as she strives to bring sound science into the courtroom. 

View the full article here.

CLBB Spring 2022 Events Highlights

The Center for Law, Brain and Behavior presents a variety of lectures and events each year, along with those in collaboration with the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School and the Boston Society of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. This Spring 2022, CLBB presented seven events on topics including addiction, juvenile justice and the courts, and elder fraud and abuse.

See the video HERE.

Please see the time stamps below corresponding to the highlights for each event:

Neuroscience and Criminal Law | February 9, 2022 | 00:15

Families, Substance Use Disorder, and the Courts | February 22, 2022 | 04:16

Dementia & the Law | March 5, 2022 | 08:01

Neuroscience in the Service of Justice | March 22, 2022 | 10:37

The Criminalization of Addiction | March 31, 2022 | 14:19

Cannabis and the Law | April 20, 2022 | 17:53

CLBB Publishes “Justice for Emerging Adults after Jones” in the NYU Law Review

The Center for Law, Brain and Behavior published a co-authored article, “Justice for Emerging Adults After Jones: The Rapidly Developing Use of Neuroscience to Extend Eighth Amendment Miller Protections to Defendants Ages 18 and Older” in the May 2022 Issue of the New York University Law Review.

During his tenure as CLBB Executive Director, Dr. Francis Shen teamed with CLBB student research assistants to provide the first empirical analysis of how courts are receiving arguments favoring raising the age above 18 for Eighth Amendment constitutional protections.

View the article here.

Authors: Francis X. Shen, Fenella McLuskie, Erin Shortell, Mariah Bellamoroso, Elizabeth Escalante, Brenna Evans, Ian Hayes, Clarissa Kimmey, Sarah Lagan, Madeleine Muller, Jennifer Near, Kailey Nicholson, Job Okeri, Ifeoma Okoli, Emily Rehmet, Nancy Gertner, Robert Kinscherff

Juvenile (in) Justice: The Role of Science and Advocacy in Juvenile Sentencing Post-Jones

In Fall 2021, law students at Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL) under the direction of Professor Stevie Leahy began investigation into the current state of law and public policy regarding the sentencing of juvenile offenders across the United States.  This investigation was prompted by the Spring 2021 decision by the US Supreme Court in Jones v. MississippiMany experts consider Jones to signal the end of increasing 8th Amendment protections for juveniles under a series of cases since 2005. In its wake, Jones will now leave the requirements of juvenile sentencing to the discretion of individual courts and/or legislatures. The NUSL students (known as Law Office 7) completed this project in March 2022 and released their analysis and recommendations as Juvenile (in) Justice: The Role of Science and Advocacy in Juvenile Justice Post-Jones.  CLBB served as a partner organization for this project, which coincided with their publication of a detailed whitepaper aligning scientific research with prior factors considered by courts in juvenile sentencing. CLBB Executive Director Dr. Robert Kinscherff and Affiliated Faculty Judge Jay Blitzman (ret.) consulted with the students, with Judge Blitzman bringing his nationally recognized expertise in this area.  Armand Coleman, Executive Director at the Transformational Prison Project, also provided his guidance and expertise to the students. The research by Law Office 7 confirms that a lack of clarity and specific requirements within juvenile sentencing decisions increases disparities in “justice by geography” when it comes to sentencing outcomes.

Please click here to view the guide: