Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998

Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998

Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998

Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998


Using a historical framework, this book offers not only the penal history of the death penalty in the states that have given women the death penalty, but it also retells the stories of the women who have been executed and those currently awaiting their fate on death row.


In American society, it is generally held that the level of criminal punishment should be proportional to the crime that is prosecuted according to conditions of due process. Penalties fall into the broad categories of those which are retributive (designed to punish the perpetrator) and those which are restitutive (designed to restore in some measure that which has been taken from another).

From a social justice perspective, any consideration of the death penalty raises questions about the right of society to take the life of a person. Some hold that there is never a valid reason to do so, while others contend that the death penalty is valid because it can act as a deterrent. More recently, however, the televising of criminal trials, and the televised countdown to executions (as in the case of Karla Faye Tucker, 1998) have raised questions among the general public about the objectivity of due process. As a result, the subjective dimensions of prosecution and sentencing, as well as execution have come into question. With it has come a renewed sensitivity to the fallibility of human decision making particularly with respect to such irreversible choices as the enactment of the death penalty.

In recent years, the experiences of women have been observed and studied from a variety of unique perspectives. This work examines the plight of women who have faced the death penalty in the past and women who are currently facing the death penalty. By forcing us to confront the cyclical nature of violence, it raises questions as to who are the victims and who are the perpetrators in many cases. Multiple cases cited show the lives of women victimized by societal, familial, and spousal abuse who victimized others in response. Racism, domestic violence, and lack of respect for the dignity of persons are dominant themes in the transformation from victim to perpetrator.

From a societal perspective, the structure and management of America's prisons, as well as their economic position in society have taken on a new . . .

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