The death row inmate

A summary of an eye-opening 2002 article on the psychological characteristics of prisoners on ‘death row‘ in the United States, published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law.

Death row inmate characteristics, adjustment, and confinement: a critical review of the literature

Behav Sci Law. 2002;20(1-2):191-210.

Cunningham MD, Vigen MP.

This article reviews and summarizes research on death row inmates. The contributions and weaknesses of death row demographic data, clinical studies, and research based on institutional records are critiqued. Our analysis shows that death row inmates are overwhelmingly male and disproportionately Southern. Racial representation remains controversial.

Frequently death row inmates are intellectually limited and academically deficient. Histories of significant neurological insult are common, as are developmental histories of trauma, family disruption, and substance abuse. Rates of psychological disorder among death row inmates are high, with conditions of confinement appearing to precipitate or aggravate these disorders. Contrary to expectation, the extant research indicates that the majority of death row inmates do not exhibit violence in prison even in more open institutional settings.

These findings have implications for forensic mental health sentencing evaluations, competent attorney representation, provision of mental health services, racial disparity in death sentences, death row security and confinement policies, and moral culpability considerations. Future research directions on death row populations are suggested.

It’s a fascinating, if not slightly morbid article, and the full text is available online as a pdf if you want a full breakdown of the research.

Link to PubMed entry for study.
pdf of full text of the article.

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