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

Summer Learning Series: Justice and the Developing Brain

In summer 2020, CLBB is excited to partner with More Than Words, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (the Public Defender Agency of Massachusetts) to present a new online learning series led by Dr. Robert Kinscherff, JD, PhD.

You can click here to register and for more information.

Description: Emerging adults are more likely to be arrested, be incarcerated, and to recidivate after release. Join the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, the brain-science experts at the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior, and the staff and youth at More Than Words to learn why and discuss how we can reverse this trend.

COVID-19 and the Law

The Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is active in informing legal responses to the novel coronavirus. See below and stay tuned for more:

CLBB Co-Founder and Co-Director Dr. Judith Edersheim on Why Are Young People So Bad at Coronavirus Social distancing? Blame Their Brains. in USA Today.

When the world began to shelter in place, the news was filled with accounts of groups of teenagers hanging out on the beach and being scolded for their selfishness. Adults told them to grow up and use good judgment and stop being reckless.

But these lectures were utterly ineffective. Even after one spring breaker’s infamous declaration that he wasn’t going to let COVID-19 stop him from partying, and the internet backlash that followed, college students were still going to parties and flouting their recklessness on Twitter with the hashtag #boomerremover

Now that many universities are considering postponing a return to campus until 2021, this problem has returned to the front burner. Why can’t these young adults simply follow the rules like everyone else? As experts in neuroscience and the law, my colleagues and I urge you not to judge these youths too harshly. Their brains are very much to blame.  Keep reading …


CLBB Student Research Assistants Fenella McLuskie, Sina Sadeghzadeh, and Oliver Q. Sussman on The Forgotten: Juveniles In Detention During COVID-19 in The Harvard Crimson. Fenella McLuskie is a first-year student at Harvard Law School. Sina Sadeghzadeh ’21 is a Neuroscience concentrator in Dunster House. Oliver Q. Sussman ’21 is a Neuroscience concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

With more than two million people affected worldwide, the novel coronavirus is exposing social inequities. In a study of COVID-19 and youth, about 90 percent of infected children developed mild to moderate symptoms while only 0.6 percent suffered more severe complications. Yet true to the theme of exacerbated inequality, some populations of youth are at a higher risk than this overall average would suggest.

Compared to other children, children in the juvenile justice system are disproportionately more likely to have compromised immunity, asthma, and other underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk for developing acute coronavirus complications. While there has been much attention paid to different vulnerable populations in our society, juvenile detainees, as usual, are often left out of the conversation. Keep reading …


CLBB Managing Director Judge (Ret.) Nancy Gertner on Coronavirus Can Mean A Death Sentence to Prisoners in the Boston Globe.

Even with the coronavirus spreading in prisons, even though incarceration could be fatal and the crime rate during the pandemic has cratered, some officials will not listen to public health experts.

In one federal courtroom, a defense lawyer argued for a client’s release before trial because he was an insulin-dependent diabetic, which, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, increased his risk of infection; the judge refused, saying, as the lawyer told me, the CDC studies must be taken with a “grain of salt,” since it is a “novel” virus. The lawyer persisted: Given the fatality rate of COVID-19, the court should err on the side of caution; none of the defendant’s charges warranted death. To this judge, “erring on the side of caution” meant prison; release denied. While there may have been reasons for the decision, the judge’s comment has troubling echoes of President Trump’s disparagement of expertise. Worse, it shows a stunning lack of empathy. Keep reading …


CLBB Advisory Board Member Attorney John Reinstein and CLBB Managing Director Judge (Ret.) Nancy Gertner on Compassionate Release Now for Prisoners Vulnerable to the Coronavirus in the Boston Globe.

Prisons are Petri dishes for disease in the best of times, but they could become incubators for COVID-19 now. Prisoners sleep, eat, and shower in enclosed quarters with limited ventilation. Social distancing is impossible. Prison populations also have greater rates of serious health problems than the general population. Many are elderly, and have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and cancer, conditions that, if they become infected with COVID-19, make them more likely to require intensive care and especially vulnerable to dying of the disease. Keep reading …


Dr. Bruce H. Price on Protecting Older Adults from Financial Scams Amidst COVID-19

COVID-19 is introducing unparalleled challenges for older adults. In addition to being especially vulnerable to severe complications from the novel coronavirus, the bank accounts of older adults are now being targeted by well-organized predators. Why are older adults being targeted and what can we do to protect them? 

19-Year-Olds Don’t Belong in Adult Prisons

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | June 20, 2017

Governor Baker introduced a criminal justice bill in February to great fanfare. Designed to give prisoners incarcerated on mandatory minimum sentences access to good-time credit to hasten their release and to provide reentry programming, it received wide bipartisan support — as it should. The justification was clear. “Reducing recidivism,” Baker said, was the bill’s focus. The people of Massachusetts benefit “when more individuals exit the system as law abiding and productive members of the society.”

True enough. Except for those sentenced to life imprisonment, all prisoners get out of jail, and if their needs have not been addressed inside prison, not much will change when they get outside. The bill the governor proposed should help. But measures that would do much much more to address recidivism are pending before the Legislature. Representatives Evandro Carvalho and Kay Khan and Senators Cynthia Creem and Karen Spilka propose to gradually raise the age at which juveniles will be subject to juvenile court jurisdiction to include 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds.

Keeping 18-to-20-year-olds in the juvenile system, where they must attend school and participate in rehabilitative programming, where they are given supervision and intensive services, is the best bet to reduce recidivism. The governor should be championing these bills, as law enforcement representatives already have. Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins and former sheriff Frank Cousins are publicly supporting the bill, because sheriffs know better than anyone what damaging environments adult facilities can be for young people. Our current approach to this age group is a failure, with reoffending being more common than rehabilitation. It is time to try something new, informed by science and aimed at more than incremental change. Continue reading »

Mandatory Minimum Sentences are Cruel and Ineffective. Sessions Wants Them Back.

By Nancy Gertner | The Washington Post | May 15, 2017

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the nation’s 2,300 federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in all but exceptional cases. Rescinding a 2013 policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimums for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Sessions wrote it was the “moral and just” thing to do.

Sessions couldn’t be more wrong. We served as a federal prosecutor and a federal judge respectively. In our experience, mandatory minimums have swelled the federal prison population and led to scandalous racial disparities. They have caused untold misery at great expense. And they have not made us safer. Continue reading »

Judge Gorsuch is More Dangerous Than He Appears

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | April 3, 2017

He sounds so judicial. He talks about neutrality, raising plain vanilla issues about deference to the expertise of administrative agencies. It is boring, hardly likely to engender indignation. He says his decisions are required by the law — not affected by his own background. He is Judge Neil Gorsuch and he may soon be on the Supreme Court. Don’t be fooled. His approach is not neutral, not required by the law, and far out of the mainstream. Quite apart from social issues like abortion or gay rights, his approach could gut health and safety and antidiscrimination laws. Continue reading »