Interviews : Death penalty systems disregard mental health

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Dr Stephen Greenspan, a developmental psychologist who testifies regularly before US courts in capital cases, says that at most one in four defendants who plead intellectual disability in the country are granted an exemption under the 2002 Atkins v. Virginia ruling, in which the Supreme Court banned the execution of the intellectually disabled.

Scientific standards are well developed but not all experts follow those standards, because not all experts really have a good familiarity with the field or with what the standards are, Dr Greenspan said, regretting that the courts weren’t strict enough in their criteria when accepting testimonies from psychologists or psychiatrists on a defendant’s intellectual ability.

He added that intellectually disabled people who were more gullible and therefore more easily drawn by others to commit crimes and by police to confess under interrogation pressure faced a higher risk of being sentenced to death if they weren’t properly assessed.

Interview with Stephen Greenspan

Confinement causing mental illness on death row

Dr Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who spent most of his career working in prisons, said the trend towards housing death row in solitary confinement prison units caused additional mental illness among prisoners and amounted to “torture”.

Death row typically is not a very violent place", said Dr Kupers. "People facing the death penalty usually are pretty serious, they’re older, they are working on their appeal and they have no need to prove themselves in prison. They tend to be very cooperative and friendly. There is absolutely no penal objective to putting death row inside solitary confinement.

Interview with Terry Kupers

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