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

New Dana Foundation grant supports innovative partnership in law and neuroscience

August 25, 2020

The Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Mass General Hospital, in partnership with the University of Minnesota Law School and the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience based at Vanderbilt Law School, has been awarded a new grant from the Dana Foundation to support the curation and dissemination of research and legal cases at the intersection of law and neuroscience.

Attorneys and legal scholars are increasingly recognizing the implications of advances in neuroscience for doctrine and practice in areas such juvenile and emerging adult justice, criminal sentencing, brain injury litigation, elder justice, evidence law, disability law, and much more.

With this new support from the Dana Foundation, more professors and practitioners will be able to stay updated on these developments through three complementary streams: the Law and Neuroscience Bibliography, founded and hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience; the Neurolaw News, an email newsletter, providing critical updates in the bibliography, events, opportunities, and also curated by the Research Network; and a new Case Updates series disseminated by the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior.

Professor Owen Jones

Providing leadership for this unique partnership are Professors Francis X. Shen and Owen D. Jones. Co-authors, along with Vanderbilt neuroscientist Jeffrey Schall, of Law and Neuroscience (2nd ed., 2020), Shen and Jones are amongst the nation’s leading authorities on neurolaw.

At Vanderbilt, Prof. Jones is the Glenn M. Weaver, M.D. and Mary Ellen Weaver Chair in Law, Brain, and Behavior; Professor of Law; Professor of Biological Sciences; and Director, MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience.

Dr. Francis X. Shen, JD, PhD 

Dr. Shen the Executive Director of the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior, Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School, Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, and Executive Director of Education & Outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. He is also is a law professor and faculty member in the Graduate Program on Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, where he directs the Shen Neurolaw Lab.

“We are very grateful to the Dana Foundation for this support,” said Dr. Shen. “There are many exciting developments happening in the field of law and neuroscience, but few outlets regularly reporting on them. This partnership will allow us to sustain the great work of the Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, while expanding coverage of case developments through the Center on Law, Brain, and Behavior. This is an exciting, innovative partnership.”

The Dana Foundation is a private philanthropic organization dedicated to advancing understanding about the brain in health and disease through research grants and public outreach. The Foundation funds and coordinates programs on a range of brain and brain health topics for diverse audiences, including the globally successful Brain Awareness Week campaign. Its website, Dana.org, offers free articles, fact sheets, and lesson plans about brain function and health, all reviewed and approved by neuroscientists.

About the Partners

The Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Mass General Hospital 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. The Center provides expert training, tools and counsel, helping members of the legal community understand and apply the most relevant brain science to the cases, courtroom procedures and policies they influence. Since its founding in 2008, CLBB has demonstrated the clear benefits of accurately applied neuroscience: better decisions aligned with science lead to better outcomes aligned with justice.

The Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, addresses a focused set of closely-related problems at the intersection of neuroscience and criminal justice:  1) investigating law-relevant mental states of, and decision-making processes in, defendants, witnesses, jurors, and judges; 2) investigating in adolescents the relationship between brain development and cognitive capacities; and  3) assessing how best to draw inferences about individuals from group-based neuroscientific data.

The Shen Neurolaw Lab at the University of Minnesota Law School translates advances in brain science into better law and policy. The Lab motto is Every Story is a Brain Story. Recognizing that the promise of brain science must be balanced against the perils of premature and inappropriate uses, the Lab conducts research to better enable lawyers, courts, and policymakers to understand what, precisely, neuroscience can (and cannot) offer.

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior Seeking to Host Equal Justice Works Fellow

Job Description

CLOSED – We are no longer accepting applications for an Equal Justice Works fellow.

The Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) is excited to announce that it can support the application of a 3L student as a host for an Equal Justice Works fellowship. Learn more about CLBB here: http://clbb.mgh.harvard.edu/clbb-organizational-overview-a…/

CLBB 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.

CLBB supports a wide range of actors across the legal ecosystem, including judges, lawyers, standard-setting authorities, case workers, pretrial administrators, parole and enforcement agents, and financial planners. We also support those working across the media landscape who can accurately inform the public about the brain, human behavior and the justice system.

The Center is led by accomplished legal and medical experts—practitioners, researchers and thought leaders—based at Harvard Law School, Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and other leading institutions of learning.

Since our founding in 2008, we have demonstrated the clear benefits of accurately applied neuroscience: better decisions aligned with science lead to better outcomes aligned with justice.

Fellows will be mentored by an interdisciplinary team with expertise in law, neuroscience, medicine, ethics, and public policy. Start Date September 2021.

Questions should be directed to:

Emily Rehmet, CLBB Project Manager, erehmet@mgh.harvard.edu

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Mass General Hospital

Application Instructions

Application Due Aug 21, 5 pm eastern

Please use this form http://clbb.mgh.harvard.edu/ejw/ if you are interested in a formal inquiry about pursuing an Equal Justice Works fellowship hosted by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB).

All formal inquiries will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and competitive candidates will receive a follow-up communication for an interview with CLBB leadership.

Please note that this is *not* the application for the Equal Justice Works fellowship, but rather a preliminary step for CLBB to identify a strong candidate to support as a host.

In your cover letter, you should clarify how your interests, personal background, and professional / educational experience are a good fit for our work at the intersection of neuroscience and juvenile and emerging adult justice.

For background on the work of CLBB relevant to the Equal Justice Works fellowship, please view this webinar hosted by CLBB Executive Director Dr. Francis Shen, JD, PhD. Also review the CLBB information sheet.

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 »