Why the link between mental health and death penalty deserves greater attention

News: Recently NLU Delhi’s project 39A released its report Deathworthy in collaboration with NIMHANS. It studied the life and history of prisoners who have been given death punishment.

What were the findings of the report?

The report gave two important findings.

First, The origins of violent behaviour are determined by poor educational attainment and mental health issues of the prisoners. Early nurturing, disturbed childhood, exposure to abuse as children, disturbed family environment contributed to the poor mental and cognitive development of the child. For example, 73 prisoners experienced at least three adverse childhood experiences.

Second, two-third of the prisoners were diagnosed with current episodes of mental illness like depression and had suicidal tendencies. Prisoners also demonstrated evidence of cognitive impairment, head injuries, deficits in mental functioning.

All these factors should ideally be considered as part of the judicial process while awarding the death punishment.

What is the status of death punishment in India?

Since 2014 nine prisoners have been executed. Until the execution of Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004 for the rape and murder of a minor girl, the country was a de facto abolitionist state. Now, Nearly 500 prisoners have been sentenced to death row.

Laws have provided for more crimes against which death punishment can be given, particularly of the nature of sexual violence.

What should be the way forward?

Evidence has shown that there is no link between death punishment and crime rate. In fact, murder rates have declined in 10 out of 11 countries that abolished capital punishment.

The Mental Health of the convict should be considered before giving capital punishment, as is the norm in international law.

Source: This post is based on the article “Why the link between mental health and death penalty deserves greater attention” published in the Indian Express on 26th November 2021.

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