Friday, February 8, 2008

Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Resource Guide

Fewer than 55,000 Americans currently receive treatment in psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile, almost 10 times that number — nearly 500,000 — mentally ill men and women are serving time in U.S. jails and prisons.

Out of 2 million prisoners, 500,000 are mentally ill. The mental illnesses are clinical and include manic depression (bipolar disorder) and schizophrenia. Prisons are not equipped to treat individuals who have been diagnosed.

Ron Williamson was bipolar,
Ron Williamson was the subject of John Grisham's book, The Innocent Man. He wasn’t given his meds and would appear in court incoherent. Chances are that he couldn’t offer much help to his legally blind attorney.

A friend of mine sent me this Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Resource Guide , prepared by Kristin Houlé to me to share with my readers. It is worth sharing and reading. Let me know what you think. Here is the introduction;

Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Resource Guide
Page 1
Introduction - In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ford v. Wainwright that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, his or her punishment.

The Ford decision left the determination of competency for execution up to each state, however, and it has not prevented the execution of scores of offenders with severe and persistent mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Here in Texas, the state legislature did not even establish a statute governing the process to determine competency to be executed until 1999, and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has never found a death row inmate incompetent for execution.

While state and federal courts have wrangled with issues of competency and sanity, more than 20 individuals with documented histories of paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder,and other persistent and severe mental illnesses have been executed by the State of Texas.

Countless others continue to languish on death row, waiting to be found “competent to be executed.”
During this same time period, state funding for mental health care has declined substantially across the board, and persons suffering from severe mental disorders increasingly have been placed in jails or prisons rather than treatment facilities.
Many of those sentenced to death and executed in Texas had sought treatment before the commission of their crimes, but were denied long-term care.

In the last five years, the abolition movement has succeeded in outlawing the death penalty for juvenile offenders and persons with mental retardation – offenders who are considered less morally culpable or who have diminished capacity to appreciate the consequences of their actions or to participate fully in their own defense.
The movement now is addressing the fact that it is profoundly inconsistent for those with mental retardation and juveniles to be ineligible for the death penalty while offenders with severe and persistent mental illnesses are held to a higher standard of culpability.

A national effort on this issue has been grounded in a recommendation crafted by the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Task Force on Mental Disability and the Death Penalty (consisting of legal and mental health experts), which calls for a prohibition on the death penalty for persons with mental disabilities or disorders. It sets forth standards for determining competency under which offenders whose severe mental illness impairs their capacity to participate in their own defense, exercise rational judgment, or understand the nature and purpose of their punishment no longer are subject to the death penalty.

The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness have endorsed this recommendation, and the ABA House of Delegates passed it unanimously in 2006.
It now is up to individual states to ensure that the ABA recommendation becomes reality.
This effort will require close collaboration with mental health advocates and, most importantly, public education.
Texas is leading the way in this arena, as it currently is the only state in the nation with a specific campaign related to mental illness and the death penalty as well as dedicated staff to support it.

The materials in this organizing packet have been developed to help you educate yourself and the public at large about mental illness and how it intersects with the death penalty/criminal justice systems in Texas.

Use these resources to help reduce some of the stigmas Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Resource Guide associated with mental illness in this country, to launch a broader dialogue about the death penalty in Texas, and to take action in your community.

In this Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Resource Guide, you will find the following materials:
• Talking Points on Mental Illness and the Death Penalty
• Key Terms and Legal Statutes Related to Mental Illness
• Ideas for Action
• Discussion Guide for “Executing the Insane: The Case of Scott Panetti”
• Available Speakers on Mental Illness and the Death Penalty
• Executions of Offenders with Severe Mental Illness in Texas (a compilation of allknown cases)
• Resources on Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

In the pockets of the folder, you will find these resources:
• Mental Illness and the Death Penalty in Texas: Know the Facts
• In-Depth Case Studies on James Colburn, Monty Delk, Scott Panetti, KelseyPatterson, and Larry Robison
• “Executing the Insane: The Case of Scott Panetti” DVD
• Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Postcards (20 to get you started; you can request more!)
• American Bar Association Recommendation on the Death Penalty and Persons with Mental Disabilities

1 comment:

Zathyn Priest said...

I'm not an advocate for the death penalty at all but I am an advocate for the mentally ill. It doesn't surprise me in the least to know how many people suffering some form of mental illness are locked up in jails rather than getting the help they need in a hospital. Ask anyone with mental illness - including me - and you'll find getting help is like trying to squeeze blood out of a stone.

I suffer from bipolar, and I've had manic episodes and psychotic episodes. I know how twisted my thought patterns get during these phases. About the closest I've ever come to actually committing a crime was thinking about stealing a bike chained to a tree. Why did I want to steal it? Because at the time it seemed like a great way to prove just how ingenious I was. When in my normal state of mind I'd never think of breaking the law and the thought I wanted to steal this bike horrified me.

The point is, thought processes change dramatically during manic or psychotic episodes. When this happens there is nothing I can do about the things that go through my mind. Mental illness needs treatment and there just isn't enough help available. Hence, people find themselves in jail or worse still, on death row.

This is an interesting and informative Blog - thank you for broaching these justice posts.

Best Wishes,

PS: I never did steal the bike!!