Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Coverage in Mental Health Weekly

I've just gotten the copy of Mental Health Weekly that has an article about our collaborative project with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The publication isn't available online (except by subscription), so I can't link to it, but here's an excerpt from the article:

A new report released by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is calling the death penalty as a response to homicides committed by persons with severe mental illness (SMI) “inappropriate and unwarranted.” The report is being supported by families of murder victims who, for the first time, are joining families of persons with mental illness to speak out about the death penalty.

The focus should be on affordable and appropriate treatment to help prevent or minimize the risk of violence committed by some individuals who experience acute psychotic symptoms of mental illness, according to the report, released during NAMI’s annual convention earlier this month.

The report, “Double Tragedies: Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty for People with Severe Mental Illness,” is a joint project of NAMI and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), an international organization of relatives of homicide victims and relatives of people who have been executed. ...

The same standards established for defendants with mental retardation and juveniles in dealing with the death penalty should also apply to defendants with a serious mental illness, said Ron Honberg, national director for policy and legal affairs for NAMI.

The driving force for the project involves families of people who have been murdered and families of people who have been executed, he noted. Families on both sides came together last October in San Antonio, Texas, to share their stories, and begin the conversation of advocating for those with mental illness, said Honberg. This gathering marked the official launch of the project, titled “Prevention, Not Execution,” to bring a new perspective to the debate about whether persons with severe mental illnesses should be exempt from capital punishment, he noted.

“There’s a public perception that murdered victims’ families support the death penalty,” said Honberg. While some do, more victims’ families are for human rights and support the mission to end the death penalty for offenders with SMI, he noted.

A person with SMI who is executed or is on death row only adds to the tragedy and to the pain, and does nothing to prevent future tragedies, Honberg noted. NAMI advocates continue to advocate for better services in the community, such as housing, and for other improvements to the mental health system, he noted.

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