Many states still execute inmates with severe mental illnesses [CNA]


#1

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/images/size340/Prison_gates_Credit_RIRF_Stock_Shutterstock_CNA.jpgWashington D.C., Dec 10, 2016 / 04:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 10 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in two separate cases that the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied to juveniles or the intellectually disabled.

But today, over a decade later, many states still execute inmates with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

And Catholic advocates say the rules need to change.

“As Catholics we are called to uphold the dignity of all life, and supporting a Severe Mental Illness exemption bill is a vital part of our call to live where justice and mercy meet,” said Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network. The group advocates for an end to the use of capital punishment.

The death penalty for the severely mentally ill “does not further the retributive goals of the punishment, as this population simply does not have the requisite moral culpability,” a new report by the American Bar Association on the death penalty stated.

“Their illnesses can impair the ability to interpret reality accurately, comprehend fully the consequences of their actions, and control their actions.”

Two years ago, a federal court halted at the last minute the execution of a man diagnosed with schizophrenia. Advocates are citing his case in favor of a death penalty ban for the severely mentally ill.

Scott Pinetti, the man at the center of the Texas case, killed his in-laws in 1992 and was sentenced to death in 1995.

Before his crime, he had been hospitalized 14 times in 11 years for symptoms of mental illness. Pinetti was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and suffered from hallucinations. At his trial, he dressed in a purple cowboy outfit and attempted to subpoena John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ. Yet he testified in court against the wishes of his attorney, and the jury sentenced him to death.

A federal appeals court granted a temporary halt to his scheduled execution in 2014, just hours before it was to take place. Texas’ Catholic bishops approved of the move and restated their opposition to his execution.

“The Texas Bishops have long taught about the immorality of the death penalty and were particularly vocal seeking mercy for Panetti, who has been diagnosed by several doctors as suffering from severe mental illness,” they stated, adding that “the death penalty in his case would violate the constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”

Yet despite prohibitions on the execution of juveniles and persons with Intellectual Disability (formerly referred to as mental retardation), decided by the Supreme Court in 2002 and 2005 respectively, many states that use the death penalty have no specific prohibition on the its use on persons who had severe mental illness at the time of their crime.

Thus, controversial executions of people with evidence of mental illness continue. For instance, in 2015 Georgia executed Andrew Brannan, a Vietnam War veteran whose lawyers said was ruled 100 percent disabled with PTSD by the Department of Veterans Affairs and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder before he shot and killed a police officer.

A coalition of groups, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the American Bar Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and other religious and mental health groups have been pushing for this legal protection.

Full article…


#2

This is definitely something that needs to be changed. People with severe mental illnesses should not be subject to the death penalty. Ideally, the death penalty would be completely abolished in the United States but that is not likely to happen anytime soon.


#3

Really, what is there to discuss about this topic that hasn’t already been discussed in many threads here at CAF?

CCC 2267 (link) makes the Church’s position quite clear:
2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - **the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”**68


#4

Sounds like he went to a lot of effort to illustrate his mental illness. So, just how “ill” was he?


#5

From what I can see in the statistics, only 6-7 states even have an active death penalty. So if the word “many” is to be used, surely it is that “many” states - most, actually - don’t have a death penalty at all.


#6

The death penalty has been perennially defended by the Catholic Church.


#7

Executing mentally ill people is a symptom of a much greater problem. Those with major mental illness should NEVER be put in prison in the first place. Institutions for the criminally insane are few and far between in the US. There aren’t enough qualified psychiatric professionals on state’s payrolls, who service the justice system, because there is not enough room to house the ones who are diagnosed with a major illness.

Nearly every time there is a mass shooting it’s a person with a major mental illness if it’s not a terrorist. Yet in the aftermath, the discussion turns to the usual red herring…guns. The US has come up short in dealing with mentally ill people who are discarded, have no where to go, no one to care for them, and end up homeless or in prison or dead.


#8

More that the church has deemed it moral if there is no other way to keep a dangerous criminal from harming again. Given that that is almost never the case nowadays, it remains ambiguous at best, but I would say that it is not morally justified in the US at least.


#9

You make good points.


#10

I know that. The death penalty is not evil. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does say this:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2267.htm

So, basically, if I am understanding it correctly, the death penalty is not evil but it is also the least preferred method of justice.


#11

You articulated that well. Simple and clear.


#12

Thank you. :slight_smile:


#13

Yes and Ive always found its pretty ‘convenient’ that the catechism and the CC in general give/justify so much authority to the secular authority. (but thats a different discussion I guess).


#14

That is a reasonable interpretation of 2267, but I don’t think it is the correct one. Your interpretation would mean the state may not execute a person for having already killed someone else, but he may be executed if we feel it necessary to protect ourselves. That is, we can’t kill him because he deserves to die for what he has done, but we can kill him if we think he’s a threat to us. Does anyone else find it ironic that this interpretation allows us to execute a person for threatening to kill even as we are forbidden to execute him for actually killing?

The point that is always overlooked in this understanding is that protection is only a secondary objective of punishment. It is not the primary one, and it is the primary objective that must be the first consideration in determining the nature of the punishment.

Given that that is almost never the case nowadays, it remains ambiguous at best, but I would say that it is not morally justified in the US at least.

It is often claimed that facilities are so much more advanced today than in the past that prisoners are no longer a threat to the public, a claim that is dubious at best and one I have yet to see anyone try to substantiate, but even if it was true it wouldn’t change the fact that punishment is not justified by what may happen in the future but only by what has already happened in the past.

Ender


#15

This is a direct result of the mass closing of the majority of America’s mental hospitals. We threw them out in the street with little to no follow up and expect them to be fine. To be frank there are some people who simply HAVE to be permanently housed in a secure mental health facility. It is not fair to them to keep trying to get them to live on the street when they are not able and it is not fair to the rest of society to have to be put in danger due to them being out. However people are unwilling to make this decision and definitely aren’t willing to foot the bill for it anymore, so instead of being in a secure facility where they can safely receive treatment they go in and out of jails until they finally kill or rape someone, then suddenly everyone is shocked and wonder how such a thing could happen…


#16

Cook County Jail has been called the largest mental health hospital in the country.


#17

If the person is actually guilty, fair enough, but what if the person is innocent? If they are, then it is murder.


#18

Heartbreaking and horrendous.
I am really glad that Catholic and other groups are pushing for this change,

Generally speaking,I am very glad to live in a country that does not believe in the death penalty.


#19

The determination of guilt or innocence is a separate issue, connected as it is to the determination of guilt or innocence rather than the question of what to do with the guilty.


#20

Precisely. The first consideration of punishment or consequences for committing crimes is justice, not protection.

In fact, since a person who is sufficiently mentally ill to kill remains a danger to all, it is actually necessary to kill him.

The reason we do not think it right to kill a mentally ill person for committing a crime is that we do not think it is *just *to inflict a punishment on a person who is not responsible for his actions.

The point that is always overlooked in this understanding is that protection is only a secondary objective of punishment. It is not the primary one, and it is the primary objective that must be the first consideration in determining the nature of the punishment.
It is often claimed that facilities are so much more advanced today than in the past that prisoners are no longer a threat to the public, a claim that is dubious at best and one I have yet to see anyone try to substantiate, but even if it was true it wouldn’t change the fact that punishment is not justified by what may happen in the future but only by what has already happened in the past.

Ender


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