The Collateral Anti-Therapeutic Effects of the Death Penalty

11 Fla. Coastal L. Rev. 289 (2010)

26 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2009 Last revised: 12 Aug 2014

Date Written: August 27, 2009


The death penalty debate in the United States typically pits the offensiveness of the crime and offender and the societal need for this extreme punishment as an expression of moral outrage against evidence of arbitrariness, the risk of executing an innocent person and other systemic injustices. Most recently, in these tough economic times, the extraordinary financial cost of the death penalty has been thrown into the balance.

There are additional costs, however, that are rarely acknowledged in the death penalty debate - the human costs. Tens of thousands of people in the United States who are not on death row are intimately affected by current death sentences and past executions. This essay provides evidence - some of it first hand - of these human costs as measured by the anti-therapeutic effects of traumatic stress. Its focus is on the four groups: death row lawyers, family members of the condemned, murder victim family members, and the execution team.

Therapeutic jurisprudence calls upon law-makers and law-advocates to understand and to consider both the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic effects a law has on individuals and on communities. This essay makes the case that in assessing the value of the death penalty, legislators must consider its collateral emotional and psychological damage.

Keywords: Death penalty, Capital punishment, Therapeutic Jurisprudence, Secondary Trauma, Law and Psychology

Suggested Citation

Adcock, Cynthia F., The Collateral Anti-Therapeutic Effects of the Death Penalty (August 27, 2009). 11 Fla. Coastal L. Rev. 289 (2010), Available at SSRN: or

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