There are 3309 inmates on death row in the US today and up to 20% of them may have undiagnosed mental illnesses, estimates Renny Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR).
Today is Mental Health Day and World Day Against the Death Penalty and our Editor's Pick takes you to Texas - the state that executes more inmates than anywhere in the US while ranking in the bottom three in mental healthcare spending.
Last week, a remarkable event in Texas brought together families of murder victims with families of mentally ill individuals who have been executed for violent crimes. Together, they offered their testimonies and launched a new initiative calling for a ban on the death penalty for people with mental illnesses.
"Mental illness is a medical illness," says Ron Honberg, from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "Treatment works, but it is frequently unavailable for those who need it most." While the focus is not on prevention or treatment, says Honberg, evidence shows that once in the criminal justice system, "individuals with severe mental illnesses are more likely to be sentenced to death."
The death penalty still exists in 36 US states and 60 other countries (88% of executions in 2007 took place in China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the US) . In the next year, several US states will discuss legislation to ban the death penalty in cases of mental illness. To get involved, watch this video, contact MVFHR, and join the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.