The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health has awarded the 2010 Harry E. and Bernice M. Moore Fellowship to Meredith Martin Rountree, a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin.
The $20,000 fellowship will assist Rountree in her research of how physically and mentally stressful environments can affect a person's desire to hasten death. She is studying death row prisoners who waived their right to appeals and sought their own execution, and comparing them to those who did not.
The fellowship was established in 1995 in memory of Dr. Harry E. Moore, a professor and sociologist who specialized in disaster studies, including tornadoes and hurricanes that affected the state of Texas. The Moore Fellowship is awarded annually to doctoral students completing dissertations on the human experience in crises caused by natural or other major disasters or, in a broader sense, stress and adversity.
"How do institutionalization and isolation affect the human psyche? Meredith's study of death row prisoners is a unique approach that will bring greater insight into this important area of mental health. Her research has the potential to help all institutionalized individuals," said Dr. Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., executive director of the foundation.
Rountree, an attorney experienced in federal and state death penalty litigation, graduated from Yale College, earned her law degree from Georgetown University and was admitted to doctoral candidacy in December 2009.
"I am combining my interest in the lived experiences of death row prisoners with my interest in how prisoners cope with harsh living conditions and social isolation," said Rountree. She noted that 11 percent of people executed in this country do not follow through with a full court review of their conviction and sentence.
The project will examine the moral dilemmas raised by consensual executions. Rountree will look at prisoners' social networks and support systems to establish a foundation for identifying prisoners' rational decisions based on self-actualizing choice versus suicidal decisions borne of anguish and stress.
"Meredith's deep knowledge of the prison system in the United States, and especially in Texas, gives her not only a sharp mind for the project, but highly unusual access and skills to examine these questions," said Dr. Mary R. Rose, associate professor of sociology and law at the university.
"I want my work to help courts make just and humane decisions when confronted with a prisoner who seeks his own execution," Rountree said. "I also hope to help lawyers understand the complexities of working with prisoners who may seek to drop their appeals."
The Hogg Foundation was founded in 1940 by the children of former Texas Governor James Hogg to promote improved mental health for the people of Texas. The foundation's grants and programs support mental health consumer services, research, policy analysis and public education projects in Texas. The foundation is part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin.