What age, cognitive disability mean for Brendan Dassey of ‘Making a Murderer’

Amaking

By Courtney Knight, ChronicleOfSocialChange.org

If you have not seen Netflix’s breakout documentary series “Making a Murderer,” there is a good chance every other person you know has.

The series follows the intellectually challenged 16-year-old Brendan Dassey and his uncle as they are ushered through the Wisconsin criminal justice system. Brendan’s intellectual or cognitive disabilities have been mentioned numerous times, but how his age and disability mix with interrogation techniques and self-advocacy within the system have not been explored.

Public outrage occurred over the suggestive, and at times directive, methods police used to obtain Brendan’s confession later used in court.

Brendan, who did not even know the word “inconsistent” when police used it, is reported by the entertainment news site Vulture to have an IQ ranging from 69-73, which in many other states could make him mentally incompetent to stand trial.

This cognitive disability is not to be confused with mental illness, which may impact half of incarcerated adults and can be treated by medication or therapy. Brendan is also just one of almost 400,000 inmates with cognitive disabilities currently imprisoned in the United States.

A December 14, 2015 report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics shows just how “consistent” the incarceration of cognitively disabled individuals is in the United States, identifying that roughly a quarter of detained Americans struggle with a cognitive disability.

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