[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jan 30 22:25:51 CST 2006
Amnesty says U.S. executes many mentally ill
At least 10 % of the first 1,000 people executed in the United States
since 1977, were severely mentally ill, Amnesty International said in a
report issued on Monday.
The London-based human rights organization, which opposes all forms of
capital punishment, said the practice of putting to death people with
serious mental illnesses offended international standards of decency.
"For the USA to be pursuing this premeditated ritualistic killing in the
21st century of offenders suffering from serious mental illness is
particularly offensive to widely held standards of decency," Amnesty said.
The number of people executed in the United States since 1977, when the
Supreme Court ended a 10-year moratorium on capital punishment, passed
1,000 last month with the December 2 execution of Kenneth Boyd in North
Amnesty said a review of psychiatric examinations, medical records and
documented cases of extreme behavior found at least 100 of the condemned
prisoners had clearly cataloged cases of severe mental illness. In other
cases it was impossible to determine whether inmates were mentally ill
since many never received a thorough psychiatric examination.
The statistical arm of the Department of Justice issued a report in 1999
stating that an estimated 283,000 mentally ill individuals were held in
U.S. prisons and jails, around 15 % of the total incarcerated population.
There are some 2.2 million people currently behind bars in the United
States, making the country's prison system the largest in the world.
Amnesty also cited an estimate by the National Association of Mental
Health that 5 to 10 % of the 3,400 people on death rows around the nation
were mentally ill.
"Prejudice and ignorance give rise to fear and for many people it is
easier to sentence a mentally ill person to death than to find genuine
treatment solutions," said Susan Lee, Amnesty's American programs
The report cited the case of Scott Panetti, sentenced to death in 1995 for
killing his parents-in-law. He has a long history of hospitalizations for
mental illnesses that cause him to experience hallucinations.
Panetti represented himself at his trial where he dressed as a cowboy,
rambled, asked irrational questions and scared jurors. His case remains
Amnesty said that some of those who have cut short their appeals and
"volunteer" to be executed were mentally ill. Other defendants had been
medicated so that they would be lucid enough to be aware of what was
happening to them at the time of their own execution.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it was unconstitutional to execute
criminals who are mentally retarded. Last year, it also banned executions
of defendants for crimes committed under the age of 18.
A Gallup poll last October showed 64 % of Americans favored the death
penalty -- the lowest level in 27 years, down from a high of 80 % in 1994.
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