Analysis of last statements prior to execution: methods, themes and future directions.

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Abstract

Worldwide, over 1000 people were executed in 2016 and over 3000 sentenced to death. Death row prisoners have high rates of mental illness, often combined with neurological impairment. Prolonged confinement has further negative effects on psychological function. There is a growing literature examining key themes and psychological constructs in death row prisoners immediately prior to execution. To date, this literature centres largely but not exclusively on last statements from death row in Texas, owing to ease of availability. The most common themes in last statements are love, spirituality and apology or regret. The most common psychological constructs are 'identification-egression' (e.g. attachment to a lost person or ideal, such as freedom), unbearable psychological pain and rejection-aggression. This is still a relatively new area of research and new techniques, such as computerised quantitative text analysis, are likely to complement rather than replace more traditional forms of thematic and textual analysis. For the future, it is essential that studies in this field continue to specify precisely, which last statements they use, so that overlap can be identified, and that more countries are studied (if possible). It would also be useful to expand the research frame to relate the content of last statements to additional variables relating to prisoners' offences, physical health, mental health, family structure and broader circumstances. Finally, ethical issues require continued consideration in this complex, fascinating, growing field.

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