Books: Mental Illness and Retardation


  • Christopher Slobogin of the University of Florida's Law School has written a new book about the state's legal authority to deprive people with mental disabilities of life or liberty. The book discusses a number of well known cases such as that of John Hinckley and Andrea Yates. It also includes discussion of laws dealing with the insanity defense, the death penalty, commitment of sexual predators, and hospitalization of people considered unable to make rational decisions. The book advances new ways of thinking and calls for a complete revamping of the insanity defense, the abolition of the guilty but mentally ill verdict, and a prohibition on execution of people with mental disability. ("Minding Justice: Laws that Deprive People with Mental Disability of Life and Liberty," Harvard Univ. Press 2006). See Mental Illness and Books.


    • Katherine Norgard's recent book, "Hard to Place: A Crime of Alcohol," is a personal account of the trauma experienced by her family when her adopted son is charged with a capital crime. The book is the author's story of fighting to save her son after he was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of an elderly couple in Tuscon, Arizona. At the time of his trial, she still did not know that her son, John Eastlack, had been born with fetal alcohol syndrome, despite his signs of mental illness. The disorder occurs when mothers drink during pregnancy, and it often leaves children with seriously impaired judgment. Eastlack's brain damage was discovered after he was on death row. Eight years after he was sentenced to die, his sentence was reversed. He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. CUNY Law Professor Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier notes, "Kathy Norgard's book gives a unique personal and professional insight into the difficulties a family faces when a loved one is charged with a capital crime. As a mental health professional, she uses her personal experiences to illustrate how mental disabilities, and fetal alcohol syndrome in particular, relate to our nation's capital punishment system. As a mother, she reveals a love for her family and illustrates a side of the death penalty that is rarely considered." Norgard, a Tuscon psychologist, now works to prevent other children from being born with fetal alcohol syndrome, the leading cause of mental retardation in the United States. Her book contains a forward by Sister Helen Prejean, who writes: "You, the reader of this book, are privileged to enter into her soul. Her words are transparent, unsparing of herself. She takes you to the deep places. She's brave to write such a book and to share it with the world." (Recover Resources Press, 2006). See Books.