In 2022, Kentucky Became Second State to Pass Death-Penalty Mental-Illness Exemption

Research suggests 43% of prisoners executed between 2000 and 2015 were medically diagnosed as mentally ill at some point in their lives.

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click to enlarge House Bill 269 requires that a defendant must have had a documented diagnosis and active symptoms of mental illness at the time of his or her offense. - Photo: Bill Oxford
Photo: Bill Oxford
House Bill 269 requires that a defendant must have had a documented diagnosis and active symptoms of mental illness at the time of his or her offense.

Kentucky became the second state in the nation this year to pass an exemption to the death penalty for people with a serious mental illness.

Signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear in April, House Bill 269 requires that a defendant must have had a documented diagnosis and active symptoms of mental illness at the time of his or her offense. Research suggests 43% of prisoners executed between 2000 and 2015 were medically diagnosed as mentally ill at some point in their lives.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said there has been a slow shift toward considering a different approach in sentencing people who are severely mentally ill.

"I think there's a growing awareness around the world that it is not appropriate to subject people who are seriously mentally ill to capital punishment," Dunham said. "And that's a view that's been growing within the United States as well."

According to the report, with the exception of the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, the eighteen executions carried out in 2022 are the fewest on record since 1991. As of this year, 27 people remain on death row in the Commonwealth.

Dunham noted while the number of executions is down, the number in which there have been significant problems is up. He explained there were problems this year in seven executions stemming from executioner incompetence, failures to follow protocols, or defects in the protocols themselves that resulted in hours-long deaths.

"There have been botched executions in the United States, as long as executions have been carried out. But we have now reached the point where they seem to be happening over and over and over," Dunham said.

He added the issues raise serious concerns about the applications of the death penalty and the methods used to carry it out.

"All of these things provide evidence that states are not taking this responsive ability sufficiently seriously. And that is the kind of thing that continues to undermine public confidence in letting states actually have this punishment at all," he said.

A Gallup poll released in May found 55% of Americans say they believe the death penalty is morally acceptable.


This story was originally published by Public News Service and republished here with permission.


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