MacArthur Research Network Team Submits Neuroscientific Recommendations for Criminal Justice System

Owen Jones

The need for training programs for judges and others working in the criminal justice system and the development of clear guidelines for applying insights from neuroscience to criminal cases are among 16 influential recommendations provided by the MacArthur Foundation Research Foundation Network on Law and Neuroscience to President Obama’s Bioethics Commission.

Led by Owen Jones, who holds the New York Alumni Chancellor’s Chair in Law, the research network’s core team includes two judges and faculty representing diverse fields from 13 U.S. universities. The team prepared and submitted their “consensus recommendations” regarding the implications of neuroscience for the American criminal justice system in response to a request issued by the Bioethics Commission.

“The legal system must navigate carefully between the hype and the actual promise of the insights we can gain from neuroscience technologies as they are more carefully understood,” Jones said. “Two important aims of the research network’s work are to help the legal system avoid misuse of neuroscientific evidence in criminal cases and to explore ways to deploy neuroscientific insights to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system.”

Jones, one of the nation’s few professors of law and biology, designed and launched the research network in 2011, supported by three grants to Vanderbilt totaling more than $6 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “Our work includes both empirical and conceptual projects addressing several questions: Why do criminals do what they do? How responsible are they for their behavior? Are people telling the truth? Are their memories accurate? How do various brain injuries or conditions affect behavior?” Jones said.

In the chapter of its report addressing the implications of neuroscience for the criminal justice system, the Bioethics Commission cited 15 publications sponsored by the research network, including four co-authored by Jones.

The intersection of law and neuroscience is a research frontier, and the Bioethics Commission’s report highlights the policy implications of the research network’s initiatives and Jones’ work at the intersection of law and neuroscience. “President Obama charged the Bioethics Commission to ‘identify proactively a set of core ethical standards’ in the neuroscience domain,” Jones said. “When the president expresses interest in a new field, for which Vanderbilt leads the national research effort, it’s another sign of the law school’s breadth, depth and continuing contributions to policymaking at a national level.”


Summer 2015 Vanderbilt Law Magazine