Death by Design: Capital Punishment as Social Psychological System

By Craig Haney | Go to book overview

Preface

In his eloquent critique of capital punishment, Albert Camus described the death penalty as something modern society keeps "smothered under padded words" to discourage the public from honestly debating its legitimacy. He argued that these padded words have prevented us from "examin"ing" the penalty in reality" and thwarted any attempt to say what capital punishment "really is and then say whether, being what it is, it is to be considered necessary."* This book is a modest attempt to deflate at least some of the padded words that substitute for honest debate over the death penalty. It does so by bringing to bear an array of social science data that is intended to examine capital punishment "in reality." The reality I have in mind is a psychological one, and I approach the topic of the death penalty's legitimacy from the perspective of average citizens, voters, and jurors who frequently think about and react to the threat of violent crime and criminals, who often form beliefs and express preferences about the use of capital punishment in the hope of making society safer, and who sometimes deliberate and render decisions about whether and when the death penalty should be imposed.

I have been conducting research and writing about various deathpenalty-related topics for about 25 years. Although the specific topics have varied, my previous research always has focused on some discrete aspect or narrow feature of the death-sentencing process. Like many other social scientists, I have tried to use empirical data as a way of measuring the fairness

*A. Camus, Reflections on the Guillotine. In Resistance, Rebellion, and Death
(pp. 131–189). New York: Modern Library (1960), p. 134.

-ix-

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