Against Capital Punishment: The Anti-Death Penalty Movement in America, 1972-1994

By Herbert H. Haines | Go to book overview

Introduction: Death Penalty Abolitionism in America

Capital punishment 1 is in decline as the twentieth century nears its end. Once a virtually universal practice, only about 100 of the world's 180 or so nations still take the lives of those who commit serious violations of their laws (Amnesty International USA 1989a:259-262; Hood 1989:7-33). Executions have become especially rare among industrialized democracies. A few retain capital statutes dealing with extraordinary crimes such as treason, but only Japan, parts of the former Soviet Union, and the United States still carry out death sentences for "ordinary" crimes of violence.

But for at least the time being, the United States stands in stark contrast to the international trend. Capital punishment is flourishing here. After going without executions from 1967 through 1976, 38 states and the federal government have passed revised capital-sentencing statutes that meet the stiffer constitutional requirements the Supreme Court laid down between 1976 and 1983. By the time these words appear in print, at least two more states -- Iowa and Wisconsin -- may well have brought back the death penalty. Since 1983, the Court has removed a number of procedural impediments on the states, and the rate of electrocutions, gassings, and lethal injections has grown as a result. Thirty-eight persons were put to death in 1993, more than in any year since John F. Kennedy sat in the Oval Office. The number fell to 31 in 1994, but all indications point to a rising tide of harsh justice through the remainder of the decade. Nearly 3,000 convicts now await their dates with the executioner (see Table 1).

The phoenixlike resurgence of America's death penalty has been accompanied, and perhaps facilitated, by a corresponding wave of public enthusiasm. Surveys reveal a consistent pattern of support for capital punishment, in which around 75 to 80 percent of the persons polled agree that murderers should be executed. 2 These results indicate a dramatic reversal of opinion since the mid-1960s when, for a brief period, capital punishment advocates found themselves in the minority ( Zimring and Hawkins 1986:39). The sustained enthusi-

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Against Capital Punishment: The Anti-Death Penalty Movement in America, 1972-1994
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction: Death Penalty Abolitionism in America 3
  • 1 - The Fall and Rise of Capital Punishment: 1965-1976 23
  • 2 - The Return of the Executioner: 1976-1982 55
  • Summary 71
  • 3 - The Reemergence of Political Abolitionism 73
  • 4 - Framing Disputes in the Movement Against Capital Punishment 117
  • 5 - Abolitionism at the Crossroads 148
  • 6 - Reframing Capital Punishment: Pragmatic Abolitionism 167
  • Notes 197
  • References 221
  • Index 239
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