Death Penalty

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Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty

Many people have struggled in the attempt to establish a position on whether all convicted criminals who are legally declared to be mentally retarded should be excused from the death penalty. Today in America, this is a practice that 38 states still allow. Since 1983, over 60 people with mental illness or retardation have been executed in the United States. It is conservatively estimated that 5-10% of death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness. Mental illness is defined as "Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual's normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma." The issue in this paper, though, is not my opinion on the death penalty but how this act should be applied to a specific group of individuals.

Research has shown that nearly all Death Row inmates suffer from brain damage due to illness or trauma, while a vast number have also experienced histories of severe physical and/or sexual abuse. Mental illness is not only a problem on Death Row. In 1998, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 283,000 mentally ill individuals were incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons. Legislation has been passed barring the execution of juvenile or mentally retarded individuals. While it is unconstitutional to execute the insane, those suffering from other or lesser mental illnesses are insufficiently protected under the law. The imposition of the death penalty is rare. Between 1967 and 2007 there was approximately one execution for every 1,600 murders. The total number of murders in the United States during that time was 560,000, with 358 murderers executed according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 5,900 persons were sentenced to death between 1973 and 2007. The average time a murderer spends on death row is 11 years...
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