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Report: 1 in 4 Death-Row Inmates Has Intellectual Disability

A new report finds that one-quarter of the people on Oregon's death row have an intellectual disability. (PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay)
A new report finds that one-quarter of the people on Oregon's death row have an intellectual disability. (PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay)
December 26, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — One-quarter of people on Oregon's death row most likely suffer from some form of intellectual disability or brain damage, according to a new report.

The Fair Punishment Project found that, alongside those with intellectual disabilities, people who endured severe childhood trauma or who weren't yet old enough to purchase alcohol at the time of their crimes make up two-thirds of death-row prisoners.

Rob Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project, pointed to a 2002 Supreme Court decision that found the death penalty unconstitutional for people with intellectual impairments.

"What we found was that people on Oregon's death row look very close to the kind of impairments that the Supreme Court has ruled leave you categorically ineligible for the death penalty,” Smith said, "and that was very concerning to us."

Although 35 inmates currently sit on death row, only two people have been executed in Oregon over the past 40 years. Earlier this year, a Multnomah County judge vacated the death sentence of a man with an IQ of 61; a score which placed him in the range of intellectual disability and in the bottom two percent of the population generally.

Gov. Kate Brown has continued former Gov. John Kitzhaber's moratorium on executions. But Smith said that doesn't alleviate the effects of keeping the death penalty on the table in Oregon.

"The death penalty is a fiction, but it's an incredibly damaging and costly and reckless decision,” Smith said. “And it's something that seems to be out of keeping with the way I understand Oregonians to view themselves, which is reasonable and measured and prudent."

A study released last month by researchers at Lewis and Clark College and Seattle University found that Oregonians have spent $140 million in pursuit of the death penalty, and that costs of trial and incarceration in death-penalty cases are nearly twice the costs of life imprisonment or other lesser penalties.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR