Capital Punishment: A World View

By James Avery Joyce | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
The United States Against Itself

"From the beginning, a procession of the poor, the weak, the unfit, have gone through our jails and prisons and to their deaths. They have been victims. Crime and poverty and ignorance have always gone hand in hand. When our law-makers realize this, they will stop legislating more punishment and go after the causes."--CLARENCE DARROW

THE FIRST THING WHICH MAY STRIKE THE OBSERVER OF THE working of the criminal law and its social effects in the United States is the abiding influence of England, both for bad and for good. And the Hanging Business is no exception--except that hanging, pure and simple, is nowadays only a small part of the elimination process in America. In fact, the millions and millions of foreigners whose knowledge of this side of United States affairs is drawn largely from such notorious executions as those of Caryl Chessman or Barbara Graham might not suspect that there still exists an assortment of other models still in use in present-day America. The truth is that Americans have tried out--and are still trying out--every variation of human extinction, provided it is quick, clean and allegedly painless, physically speaking.

The second thing that both characterizes and yet often complicates the American approach to Capital Punishment is that, not only are the actual methods of execution more varied than in England, but so are the designated offenses which lead to the chair, the noose, the gas chamber or the firing squad, depending on the particular state and sometimes even on the individual's own choice.

This inconsistency reaches back, again, into England's not too distant past, and frequently reveals a conservativeness, even a callousness, which contrasts sharply with the progressiveness of some

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