Last month, the American Bar Association released a new report as part of its Death Penalty Due Process Review Project. The research study is entitled “Potential Cost-Savings of a Severe Mental Illness Exclusion from the Death Penalty: An Analysis of Tennessee Data,” and is available for free online.
ABA Stand Against Death Penalty for Mentally Ill Defendants Goes Back to 2006
The ABA has taken the position for many years that there should be a nationwide exemption from capital punishment for any defendant who suffers from serious mental illness at the time he or she allegedly committed the capital crime. See, AM. BAR ASS’N RECOMMENDATION 122-A (Aug. 2006). From the 2006 ABA Recommendation:
Defendants should not be executed or sentenced to death if, at the time of the offense, they had a severe mental disorder or disability that significantly impaired their capacity (a) to appreciate the nature, consequences or wrongfulness of their conduct, (b) to exercise rational judgment in relation to conduct, or (c) to conform their conduct to the requirements of the law. A disorder manifested primarily by repeated criminal conduct or attributable solely to the acute effects of voluntary use of alcohol or other drugs does not, standing alone, constitute a mental disorder or disability for purposes of this provision.
New 2018 Argument Appeals to Fiscal Concerns and State Tax Dollars
This new report supports that position with numbers, specifically a budget analysis for the State of Tennessee if that state would implement this policy. According to the ABA, the state would save between $14-19 Million each year if mentally ill defendants were exempted from a death penalty sentence.
In conclusion, our analysis shows that, if a severe mental illness exclusion were to be implemented in Tennessee, it would lead to a saving of $1.4 million to $1.9 million a year. According to our estimate, the state of Tennessee would have saved between $57 and $78 million dollars if this exclusion had been implemented in 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated in the state. While there are limits to this analysis, and an in-depth, scholarly study would need to be conducted to confirm and refine the above findings, our analysis shows that Tennessee could obtain significant cost savings if the bills created a severe mental illness exclusion from the death penalty were to pass and become law.
For more on the money argument regarding the death penalty, read our discussion back in 2010: “Growing Trend for States to Stop Death Penalty as a Budget Cut – Let’s Watch California.”