Prevention, Not Execution: Eliminating the Death Penalty for People with Severe Mental Illness
In 1999, Manny Babbitt, a decorated
In 1998, Linda Gregory’s husband, Gene, was shot and killed while responding to a call to assist a man with paranoid schizophrenia who had barricaded himself in his residence with an arsenal of weapons. Since then, Linda has become a leading advocate for better mental health services in
These extraordinary individuals joined many others in
The meeting in
MVFHR and NAMI have released a report giving voice to the shared concerns of the participants in the
The report is based on extensive interviews with 21 family members from 10 states:
Most state laws list "mental disease and defects" or some variant of this term as a factor that should mitigate against the death penalty. However, studies suggest that defendants with severe mental illnesses are more likely to be sentenced to death than those convicted of similar crimes without mental illnesses. At least 100 people with mental illness have been executed in the
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution of individuals with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) is unconstitutional and in 2005, the Court further ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people whose crimes were
Though the Double Tragedies report describes horrendously violent acts, it is important to recognize that most people with mental illnesses are not violent. When violent crimes do occur, they are exceptional and usually indicate that something has gone terribly wrong, often times within the mental health care system. Treatment and
The report makes four basic recommendations:
1. The death penalty for persons with severe mental illnesses should be banned. Currently, legislation is pending in at least four states to limit or eliminate the execution of people with severe mental illnesses. Only
2. Mental health systems need to be reformed to more effectively provide treatment and
3. Recognize the needs of families of murder victims through rights to information and participation in criminal and mental health proceedings.
4. Recognize families of individuals who are executed as victims and provide assistance to these families due to any victims of traumatic loss.
Lois and Ken Robison of
We hope that the Double Tragedies report is the start of this process.
For more information about the death penalty and persons with mental illness, visit the NAMI website.