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March 19, 2021

Resources on Severe Mental Illness and Death Penalty

SMI exemption bills, fiscal impact analysis, testimony and legislative hearings:

Legal & legislative documents:

  • Amicus Brief filed by Mental Health America (MHA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in the case of California v. Steskal (the amicus brief discusses why individuals with severe mental illness should be categorically exempted from the death penalty).
  • ABA Testimony in Support of HB1522 in front of Virginia House Courts of Justice Criminal Law committee (Jan. 30, 2017)
  • ABA Testimony in Support of HB1099 in front of the South Dakota House of Representatives State Affairs Committee (Feb. 13, 2017)

Other Resources

2018 Cost Analysis

On June 21, 2018, the ABA Death Penalty Due Process Review Project released “Potential Cost-Savings of a Severe Mental Illness Exclusion from the Death Penalty: An Analysis of Tennessee Data,” which presents a preliminary cost estimate of such an exclusion in the state of Tennessee. While the analysis is limited in its scope and data set, it presents the first reasonable estimation of how much money a state like Tennessee could save if it enacts such a policy—approximately $1.4 to $1.9 million a year. Moreover, this report offers a model methodology for others to apply to their states in order to better assess the public policy effects of a severe mental illness exclusion to the death penalty.

2016 White Paper

On December 6, 2016, the Project released a comprehensive White Paper on Severe Mental Illness and the Death Penalty. he paper provides a comprehensive examination of how mental illness is currently treated in our capital punishment and criminal justice systems, what is typically meant by "severe mental illness", why current laws are inadequate and contrary to constitutional standards that exist for other vulnerable capital defendants, and why people with severe mental illness should not be subject to the death penalty as a public policy matter.

The Paper also describes the ABA's history working on this issue and why our organization (and many others) have determined that an exemption for severe mental illness is an appropriate and reform to our capital punishment systems. We hope that this Paper will be a great resource for the public, policymakers, lawyers, and others who are concerned about how our justice system treats people with serious mental health disorders. 

CLICK HERE to read the paper. Contact us at [email protected] to receive printed copies of the Paper.

2016 National Summit on Severe Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Resources

The White Paper was released during the National Summit on Severe Mental Illness and the Death Penalty, organized by our Project, the Equitas Foundation and Georgetown University's Prisons and Justice Initiative.

Click on the links below to access the articles:

Click to access the following websites, for further reading about mental illness and mental health law: