Death Row Prisoners

Hello Readers,

Thank you for checking back! In my last post, I talked about people that support the death penalty, and their reasoning in doing so. For today’s post, I want to consider capital punishment in terms of the prisoners who are acquitted. Throughout my research, I have been finding so much information about mental illness with regards to the death penalty. The Death Penalty Information Center explains that,

“The Supreme Court held in Ford v. Wainwright (477 U.S. 399 (1986)) that executing the insane is unconstitutional. However, if an inmate’s mental competency has been restored, he or she can then be executed.  Inmates who are intellectually disabled (mentally retarded) also cannot be executed.  Inmates who are mentally ill, but not insane, have no such exemption.”

While the Supreme Court ruling addressed the insane, it neglects a whole group of people who can still be suffering from severe mental illness. That being said, I encourage you to look at this article giving specific examples of people struggling with mental illnesses who were still committed to death. In many of these examples, the person does have aggressive tendencies, and doesn’t have the ability to tell right from wrong. Not to mention that once a person realizes what she or he did wrong, they can be executed for that crime.

Also, even though I don’t have the ability to discuss it at length here, I encourage you to find information about the role of racial bias in capital punishment, especially here in North Carolina.

What do you guys think about this? Please comment below with your thoughts, and let me know whether this new information might change any possible thoughts you had about capital punishment!


6 thoughts on “Death Row Prisoners”

  1. Rainbowunicorn2, I thought this was a powerful post. I didn’t know that this was the state’s policy on the executing the mentally ill, and the information in this post has made me more disturbed by the death penalty than I was beforehand. After reading the synopses of individual cases from your link to, I find it distressing that the severely mentally ill can be executed for actions that they may not comprehend. Also, a few of those cases showed a failure of the mental health system, as a few were released from the mental institution in which they were staying despite trained mental health professionals stating that these persons shouldn’t be released because they were considered dangerous.


    1. Cotton0714,
      Thank you for your comment! I know, this blog post especially was pretty shocking to me, and it is hard not to just be furious, but instead, keep on looking at the facts, because there are so many that support the abolition of the death penalty.
      I think it is very important to note the flaws of the system, as you said with the medical institutions that released unstable patients. Throughout the whole trial process, there can be flaws: an impartial jury, a poor medical examination, a misrepresentation of the facts, etc. These are all very human errors, the people making them may not be bad people, but it is important to know that someone’s life won’t be on the line because of it.


  2. Wow. Some of these facts are shocking to me, though I suppose I should not be quite so surprised. I blogged about the relationship between mental illness and gun violence in the US, and I believe I can now effectively say that a HUGE stigma exists regarding mental illness in our country. Apparently, it’s found its way into the legal system as well, which is really rather disappointing given that justice systems are meant to be fair. Though subjective, I’m certainly a holder of the belief that the mentally ill (particularly those who lack moral conscious), do not deserve to die because of the way they were born and/or influenced by external factors when their brain was developing. Of course, they ought not to be exposed to society in general if their illness means they’re inclined to hurt others, but I do not believe this should hinder them from living life in a supervised facility.


  3. I think that this is one of the more cutting edge discussions going on in regards to death row inmates and prisons as a whole. Mental health in this country has always been an elusive topic, from the horrors of the early twentieth century asylum, to homosexuality being considered a mental defect, or that lobotomy was a “humane” treatment. Today however, advances in genetics and psychology have better prepared us to define the problems these people face and hopefully political policy will act quickly enough to implement these ideas in more stable health care for these individuals. I think you would enjoy an episode of “Last Week Tonight” on HBO (we get it through Univ. also youtube) where the host discusses the current state of our mental health care and relates it to prisons.


    1. Thank you for you comments, crishen7! I am definitely going to look up that episode of “Last Week Tonight” when I get the chance, and I’m grateful for your spreading information about this topic.
      What did you think about the episode? Did it discuss what I talked about in this post?
      Also, I agree that this has always been an issue, and agree again that advances today have changed many previous stigmas. However, these advances have come and I feel as though not much has changed in the legal system to reflect that. It makes me wonder how long and what it will take for the legal system to reflect societies acceptance of mental illnesses.


  4. Hey rainbowunicorn2!

    Sorry for the late comment, but I found this post really interesting especially considering I also just posted about mentally ill inmates and the treatment they receive. At first I was shocked that the Supreme Court ruling only addresses the “insane” and disregards those mentally unstable, but then I looked at the date it was held and I became less shocked. I am curious if any reform has been made since this ruling? In my opinion, I think this is something to be overlooked. Coming from a perspective with family members who suffer from mental disabilities and instability, I know firsthand that they can’t necessarily tell the difference between right and wrong (note: I am referring to cases of lesser severity). I understand wanting justice for loved ones, friends, family, etc., but is it justice if you’re punishing someone to death if they don’t even understand they did something wrong? Is that even justice at all?


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