Reframing Capital Punishment: Pragmatic Abolitionism
The beginning of this book posed the question of why the death penalty shows signs of flourishing in the United States when it is disappearing from the rest of the Western democratic world. For various reasons, most of those nations did not require a groundswell of popular pressure before they renounced the state's right to kill lawbreakers. The United States seems to be different in that regard; apparently a vigorous anti-death penalty movement is a prerequisite to any prospects for abolition in the future. Part of the answer to why capital punishment seems to be so well entrenched here is the current weakness of that opposition movement. In a nation where policy advocacy has become a capital-intensive enterprise, death penalty opponents have little money. On an issue that is fought mostly at the state level, abolitionism consists primarily of eastern-based national organizations with weak state affiliates and few local ones. These two disadvantages are linked intimately to a third. In the cynical and angry climate that exists in America, abolitionists have trusted mostly in their ability to bring about not just a national change of mind, but a change of heart. What has remained underdeveloped within the movement is a more pragmatic vocabulary, capable of more than just preaching to the choir.
Attacking capital punishment as an immoral and inhuman practice is not the only way to contest it. Another is to portray it as an unwise, counterproductive criminal justice policy. This approach has not been completely absent from the movement's repertoire over the years. But moral/humanitarian claims have dominated abolitionism from the beginning, and pragmatic arguments have generally played no more than a supporting role. They have also taken what might be called the "weak form": abolitionists have usually limited themselves to claiming that executions are no better than less extreme punishments as a means of addressing violent crime. Before the rise of post-Gregg "super due process" provided them with a stronger case, for example, ADPM activists used to assert merely that the death penalty probably wasn't less expensive