Tuesday, May 20, 2008

NAMI Joins with Murder Victims' Family Members in Groundbreaking New Project; Request for Assistance

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have come together to draw attention to the intersection between the death penalty and mental illness from the victims’ perspective.

MVFHR is an international organization composed of relatives of homicide victims and relatives of people who have been executed, all of whom oppose the death penalty in all cases. MVFHR opposes the death penalty from a victim perspective (asserting that executions do not help victims achieve justice or closure) and from a human rights perspective (asserting that executions violate the most basic of human rights). Within MVFHR’s membership are relatives of victims killed by persons suffering from mental illness and relatives of mentally ill offenders who have been executed.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the nation’s largest grassroots organization for people with mental illness and their families. Founded in 1979, NAMI has affiliates in every state and in more than 1,100 local communities across the country. NAMI’s members and friends work to fulfill its mission through support, education and advocacy for better mental health treatment and services. NAMI opposes the death penalty for people with mental illnesses, believing that the execution of these individuals compounds the tragedy of violent crimes and serves no purpose in deterring similar crimes.

MVFHR and NAMI are united in the belief that persons suffering from mental illness should be treated, not executed. Both groups are interested in preventing the conditions that lead to criminal violence and in raising public awareness about the effect of sentencing mentally ill offenders to death. As NAMI Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick said in a statement in 2006, the death penalty for mentally ill offenders represents “a profound injustice … at the most painful intersection of the mental healthcare and criminal justice systems in America.”

What they’re going to do:

- Organize and host a gathering of
family members of victims killed by persons suffering from mental illness and family members of mentally ill offenders who have been executed. The gathering, which will be the first of its kind, will take place in Texas in August 2008, and will include a facilitated private meeting among the families and a public ceremony and press conference.

- Publish a report that will be released at NAMI’s July 2009 conference, which will be held in San Francisco. The report will be based on interviews with 20-30 family members who fit the profiles listed below, and will include policy recommendations and other useful information.

What they’re looking for:

Murder victims’ family members who are, specifically...
- Family members of victims killed by someone suffering from severe mental illness
- Opposed to the death penalty

Families of the executed who are, specifically...
- Family members of someone who suffered from severe mental illness and was executed
- Opposed to the death penalty
- Family members who are related to both the victim and the mentally ill offender, because the murder involved one family member taking the life of another within the same family

(A FAQ with more detailed information about criteria for fitting the profile is available.)

How you can help

- Refer MVFHR to families fitting one of these profiles, or refer them to other people, groups or organizations who might be sources of information about such families.
- Help MVFHR cover the costs of bringing family members to the gathering and public event in Texas by making a donation or recommending potential sources of financial support for this and other aspects of the project.

Please contact Susannah Sheffer with MVFHR at sheffer@aceweb.com if you can offer assistance in either of these areas.

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