Executions in Arkansas: general information
The USA has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population. 1 in 5 people in the USA has a mental health condition.
Currently 1.2 million people with mental illness live in jail or prison in the USA. States with the least access to mental health care (such as AR, MS, AL) have the highest rates of incarceration.
17,707 people are imprisoned in AR and we have the fastest growing rate of incarceration in the country.
Research shows that nationally, 56% of inmates in state prisons, 45% of inmates in federal prisons, and 64% of inmates in local jails have diagnosable mental health problems and up to 20% of those incarcerated have a serious mental illness.
Since 1973, competent legal counsel and DNA testing have proven 159 death row inmates in America to be not guilty. Those inmates spent an average of 11.3 years incarcerated before being exonerated and released from prison. Nationally, there is 1 exoneration for every 10 executions.
The current population of Arkansas is 3.01 million people; 80.1% White and 15.6% Black. According to the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) website, since 1913 AR has executed 200 people: 141 Black men, 56 White men, 2 Indian men, and 1 White woman. To date, no death row inmate in AR has been exonerated
The FY2015 AR Department of Correction operating costs were $337,000,000. Research done in other states shows that a death penalty case may cost a state from 3 to 6 times more than a case with a sentence of life without parole.
April 2017 Executions in Arkansas
This Spring Arkansas planned to execute 8 death row inmates in 11 days before its stock of lethal injection drugs expired.
Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project (FPP) questioned justification of the orders for execution because of mental illness and/or intellectual disabilities of all 8 AR inmates and suggested 6 of the men were mentally unfit for a death penalty. Juries heard little or nothing about mitigating circumstances in these men’s lives including personal histories of severe childhood abuse and neglect, brain damage, low IQ, suicidal depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis or delusions.
Harvard’s FPP executive director, Rob smith said “Nobody is questioning whether people who commit some the most serious offenses should be held accountable. The question is, do people who are among the most broken, vulnerable and impaired in our society deserve the death penalty.”
– The State of Arkansas repeatedly failed to provide these death row inmates with due process of law.
– Varner Unit applied a “no involvement policy” regarding death row inmates and mental health services and employed uneducated, untrained “mental health” workers to make cursory assessment of mental status and competency.
– Arkansas Department of Corrections Director violated separation of executive and judicial powers when she deemed these inmates competent for execution.
– ADC housed these death row inmates in Supermax solitary confinement. Inmates lived in cells the size of a standard parking space and were allowed out for 1 hour in 24 to exercise in a solitary space of the same size. Research indicates that solitary confinement may induce mental illness in those who are mentally healthy and exacerbate existing mental illness/psychosis in those with acute or chronic mental conditions.
– The State of Arkansas executed Ledell Lee (Black) on 4/20/2017, Jack Jones (W hite) on 4/24/2017, Marcel Williams (Black) on 4/24/2017, and Kenneth Williams (Black) on 4/27/2017 by lethal injection. The lethal injection mix included the sedative midazolam, a paralytic to halt breathing, and a third drug to induce cardiac arrest. Midazolam, (similar to Valium) is not an anesthetic; when it fails to induce unconsciousness inmates feel the painful effects caused by the other drugs. The execution of Kenneth Williams is under investigation because witnesses observed his body cough, convulse, lurch, and jerk against the leather restraint for 4 minutes during his execution.
4 of the 8 inmates slated for execution this Spring are still alive: Jason McGehee was granted clemency and a stay; Bruce Ward, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia received a stay due to mental incompetence for execution, Don Davis and Stacey Johnson both received stays of execution because the midazolam use date expired. These 4 men remain on death row along with 26 others who the ADC lists as 15 White, 14 Black, 1 Hispanic.
Mental Health America Supports:
– Programs that provide maximum reasonable diversions from prison for mentally ill persons charged with crimes through drug courts and mental health courts.
– Appropriate hospitalization and treatment for mentally ill persons rather than confinement in prison.
– Access to mental health services for all adults and juveniles who are incarcerated with provision of more than minimal, adequate care, including timely, competent mental health evaluations, treatment, and medication management by licensed professionals.
– Proper training of law enforcement, correctional personnel including prison mental health workers, judges, and attorneys to recognize signs and symptoms of mental
illness and to obtain appropriate mental health evaluations and treatment for mentally ill citizens whom they serve.
– Elimination of the death penalty for people with serious mental illness or with intellectual disabilities.
– Elimination of involuntary treatment and especially involuntary treatment to induce competency for execution.
– Requirement of competency assessments and hearings to take mental health conditions into account during all phases of a death penalty case.
– Moratorium on the use of the death penalty due to the persistent national pattern of racial disparity in the implementation of the death penalty.
The American Psychiatric Association, The American Psychological Association, The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the American Bar Association have endorsed resolutions calling for an exemption of the severely mentally ill from the death penalty.
For more information visit http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/positions Position Statements:
#52 In Support of Maximum Diversion of Persons with Serious the Criminal Justice System
#53 Mental Health Courts
#56 Mental Health Treatment in Correctional Facilities
#54 Death Penalty and People with Mental Illnesses #57 In Support of the Insanity Defense.
P.O. Box 4714
Email: Chuck Burklow, president
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