Before the Killing Stopped
JOHN P. CONRAD
When I started work at San Quentin in 1947, I was employed as a psychiatric social worker in the prison hospital. The Chief Psychiatrist, my immediate superior, had a wide variety of assignments for me, but one on which he set great store was the preparation of psychiatric social histories of the men who were admitted to Condemned Row. They had to be seen as soon as possible after their arrival—"while they were still labile," as the Chief liked to explain. By that he meant that they would be responsive to my inquiries and not influenced by the other condemned men, by their lawyers (of whom the Chief had a low opinion), or by their families. As soon as the newly admitted condemned man had had a physical examination, I was to make haste to the Row and conduct my interview.
The objective was to gain a full account of the prisoner's family, his mental and emotional history, and such information as I could obtain about his criminal activities. I was also responsible for initiating correspondence with his family, with his employers, and with anyone else who seemed likely to tell us anything significant. After I was through with him, the clinical psychologist took his turn and administered the usual battery of tests: the Wechsler-Bellevue for an estimate of intelligence, the Bender-Gestalt for clues to brain damage or other neurological disorder, and the Rorschach and the Thematic Apperception Test to plumb the emotional depths. There might then be further physical examinations, based on what the psychologist and I had discovered. ("What's the point of this?" I heard one consultant ask in the presence of the man he was about to examine. "This guy's health problems are going to disappear soon enough.") Lastly, there was the climactic examination for which all else was preparation. A team of three psychiatrists went together to the Row for an examination in which a determination of legal sanity, by the criteria of the McNaughtan rule, would be
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Publication information: Book title: The Death Penalty:A Debate. Contributors: Ernest Van Den Haag - Author, John P. Conrad - Author. Publisher: Plenum Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1983. Page number: 1.
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