A study presented at the recent British Psychological Society Annual Conference revealed that younger jurors are more lenient and sympathetic to offenders with a mental illness than older jurors.
“The study used two groups of participants (the first aged 18 to 30 and the second 50 plus) who were shown videos of courtroom scenes depicting female defendants, either displaying overt behavioral symptoms of borderline personality disorder or not displaying any symptoms to examine whether the two age groups had different attitudes towards the defendants.”
The authors found that the participants from the older group felt that the defendant was “more guilty” than those in the younger group. In addition, they tended to recommend longer, harsher sentences than the younger participants. The authors suspected that education about mental illness among the younger generation contributed to their leniency in determining the offender’s guilt and sentencing.
While it is possible that mental health awareness contributed to the results of this study, it’s difficult to know if this information can be generalized to other disorders, or even beyond the area of England where this study took place. There could be many reasons why the older population was stricter with their views of the defendant, including the fact that the older group may have had more conservative beliefs than the younger group.
However, it is promising to think that educating the public about mental illness would offer more compassionate treatment to those individuals with mental illness who end up in the criminal justice system. More research needs to be done in this area to assist legal teams in selecting juries and to promote education of mental health issues as it relates to the legal process.