Thorough and unbiased, Among the Lowest of the Dead is a gripping narrative that provides an unprecedented journalistic look into the actual workings of the capital punishment system.
"Has all the tension of the best true crime stories . . . This is journalism at its best."
"A compelling argument against capital punishment. . . . Examining politicians, judges (including Supreme Court Justices), prosecutors, defense attorneys and the condemned themselves, the author makes an effective case that, despite new laws, execution is no less a lottery than it has always been."
"In a fine and important book, Von Drehle writes elegantly and powerfully. . . . Anyone certain of their opinion about the death penalty ought to read this book."
"An extremely well-informed and richly insightful book of great value to students of the death penalty as well as intelligent general readers with a serious interest in the subject, Among the Lowest of the Dead is also exciting reading. The book is an ideal guide for new generations of readers who want to form knowledgeable judgments in the continuing--and recently accelerating--controversies about capital punishment."
--Anthony Amsterdam, New York University
"Among the Lowest of the Dead is a powerfully written and meticulously researched book that makes an invaluable contribution to the growing public dialogue about capital punishment in America. It's one of those rare books that bridges the gap between mass audiences and scholarly disciplines, the latter including sociology, political science, criminology and journalism. The book is required reading in my Investigative Journalism classes--and my students love it!"
--David Protess, Northwestern University
"Among The Lowest of the Dead deserves a permanent place in the literature as literature, and is most relevant to today's death penalty debate as we moderate advocates and abolitionists search for common ground."
--Robert Blecker, New York Law School
David Von Drehle is Senior Writer, The Washington Post and author of Triangle: The Fire that Changed America.
American Sentencing provides an up-to-date and comprehensive overview of efforts in the state and the federal systems to make sentencing fairer, reduce overuse of imprisonment, and help offenders live law-abiding lives. It addresses a variety of topics and themes related to sentencing and reform, including racial disparities, violence prediction, plea negotiation, case processing, federal and state guidelines, California’s historic “realignment,” and more.
This volume covers what students, scholars, practitioners, and policy makers need to know about how sentencing really works, what a half century’s “reforms” have and have not accomplished, how sentencing processes can be made fairer, and how sentencing outcomes can be made more just. Its writers are among America’s leading scholarly specialists—often the leading specialist—in their fields.
Clearly and accessibly written, American Sentencing is ideal for teaching use in seminars and courses on sentencing, courts, and criminal justice. Its authors’ diverse perspectives shed light on these issues, making it likely the single, most authoritative source of information on the state of sentencing in America today.
Today, death sentences in the U.S. are as rare as lightning strikes. Brandon Garrett shows us the reasons why, and explains what the failed death penalty experiment teaches about the effect of inept lawyering, overzealous prosecution, race discrimination, wrongful convictions, and excessive punishments throughout the criminal justice system.
In the mid-1990s, as public trust in big government was near an all-time low, 80% of Americans told Gallup that they supported the death penalty. Why did people who didn’t trust government to regulate the economy or provide daily services nonetheless believe that it should have the power to put its citizens to death?
That question is at the heart of Executing Freedom, a powerful, wide-ranging examination of the place of the death penalty in American culture and how it has changed over the years. Drawing on an array of sources, including congressional hearings and campaign speeches, true crime classics like In Cold Blood, and films like Dead Man Walking, Daniel LaChance shows how attitudes toward the death penalty have reflected broader shifts in Americans’ thinking about the relationship between the individual and the state. Emerging from the height of 1970s disillusion, the simplicity and moral power of the death penalty became a potent symbol for many Americans of what government could do—and LaChance argues, fascinatingly, that it’s the very failure of capital punishment to live up to that mythology that could prove its eventual undoing in the United States.
Michigan is the only state in the country that has a death penalty prohibition in its constitution—Eugene G. Wanger’s compelling arguments against capital punishment is a large reason it is there. The forty pieces in this volume are writings created or used by the author, who penned the prohibition clause, during his fifty years as a death penalty abolitionist. His extraordinary background in forensics, law, and political activity as constitutional convention delegate and co-chairman of the Michigan Committee Against Capital Punishment has produced a remarkable collection. It is not only a fifty-year history of the anti–death penalty argument in America, it also is a detailed and challenging example of how the argument against capital punishment may be successfully made.
Today there are approximately fifty thousand prisoners in American prisons serving life without parole, having been found guilty of crimes ranging from murder and rape to burglary, carjacking, and drug offences. In The Forgotten Men, criminologist Margaret E. Leigey provides an insightful account of a group of aging inmates imprisoned for at least twenty years, with virtually no chance of release.
These men make up one of the most marginalized segments of the contemporary U.S. prison population. Considered too dangerous for rehabilitation, ignored by prison administrators, and overlooked by courts disinclined to review such sentences, these prisoners grow increasingly cut off from family and the outside world. Drawing on in-depth interviews with twenty-five such prisoners, Leigey gives voice to these extremely marginalized inmates and offers a look at how they struggle to cope. She reveals, for instance, that the men believe that permanent incarceration is as inhumane as capital punishment, calling life without parole “the hard death penalty.” Indeed, after serving two decades in prison, some wished that they had received the death penalty instead. Leigey also recounts the ways in which the prisoners attempt to construct meaningful lives inside the bleak environment where they will almost certainly live out their lives.
Every state in the union (except Alaska) has the life-without-parole sentencing option, despite its controversial nature and its staggering cost to the taxpayer. The Forgotten Men provides a much-needed analysis of the policies behind life-without-parole sentencing, arguing that such sentences are overused and lead to serious financial and ethical dilemmas.
The convergence of tough-on-crime politics, stiffer sentencing laws, and jurisdictional expansion in the 1970s and 1980s increased the powers of federal prosecutors in unprecedented ways. In Hard Bargains, social psychologist Mona Lynch investigates the increased power of these prosecutors in our age of mass incarceration. Lynch documents how prosecutors use punitive federal drug laws to coerce guilty pleas and obtain long prison sentences for defendants—particularly those who are African American— and exposes deep injustices in the federal courts.
As a result of the War on Drugs, the number of drug cases prosecuted each year in federal courts has increased fivefold since 1980. Lynch goes behind the scenes in three federal court districts and finds that federal prosecutors have considerable discretion in adjudicating these cases. Federal drug laws are wielded differently in each district, but with such force to overwhelm defendants’ ability to assert their rights. For drug defendants with prior convictions, the stakes are even higher since prosecutors can file charges that incur lengthy prison sentences—including life in prison without parole. Through extensive field research, Lynch finds that prosecutors frequently use the threat of extremely severe sentences to compel defendants to plead guilty rather than go to trial and risk much harsher punishment. Lynch also shows that the highly discretionary ways in which federal prosecutors work with law enforcement have led to significant racial disparities in federal courts. For instance, most federal charges for crack cocaine offenses are brought against African Americans even though whites are more likely to use crack. In addition, Latinos are increasingly entering the federal system as a result of aggressive immigration crackdowns that also target illicit drugs.
Hard Bargains provides an incisive and revealing look at how legal reforms over the last five decades have shifted excessive authority to federal prosecutors, resulting in the erosion of defendants’ rights and extreme sentences for those convicted. Lynch proposes a broad overhaul of the federal criminal justice system to restore the balance of power and retreat from the punitive indulgences of the War on Drugs.
The Justice of Mercy
Linda Ross Meyer University of Michigan Press, 2010 Library of Congress K250.M49 2010 | Dewey Decimal 340.11
"The Justice of Mercy is exhilarating reading. Teeming with intelligence and insight, this study immediately establishes itself as the unequaled philosophical and legal exploration of mercy. But Linda Meyer's book reaches beyond mercy to offer reconceptualizations of justice and punishment themselves. Meyer's ambition is to rethink the failed retributivist paradigm of criminal justice and to replace it with an ideal of merciful punishment grounded in a Heideggerian insight into the gift of being-with-others. The readings of criminal law, Heideggerian and Levinasian philosophy, and literature are powerful and provocative. The Justice of Mercy is a radical and rigorous exploration of both punishment and mercy as profoundly human activities."
---Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Ethical and Political Thinking, Bard College
"This book addresses a question both ancient and urgently timely: how to reconcile the law's call to justice with the heart's call to mercy? Linda Ross Meyer's answer is both philosophical and pragmatic, taking us from the conceptual roots of the supposed conflict between justice and mercy to concrete examples in both fiction and contemporary criminal law. Energetic, eloquent, and moving, this book's defense of mercy will resonate with philosophers, legal scholars, lawyers, and policymakers engaged with criminal justice, and anyone concerned about our current harshly punitive legal system."
---Carol Steiker, Harvard Law School
"Far from being a utopian, soft and ineffectual concept, Meyer shows that mercy already operates within the law in ways that we usually do not recognize. . . . Meyer's piercing insights and careful analysis bring the reader to think of law, justice, and mercy itself in a new and far more profound light."
---James Martel, San Francisco State University
How can granting mercy be just if it gives a criminal less punishment than he "deserves" and treats his case differently from others like it? This ancient question has become central to debates over truth and reconciliation commissions, alternative dispute resolution, and other new forms of restorative justice. The traditional response has been to marginalize mercy and to cast doubt on its ability to coexist with forms of legal justice.
Flipping the relationship between justice and mercy, Linda Ross Meyer argues that our rule-bound and harsh system of punishment is deeply flawed and that mercy should be, not the crazy woman in the attic of the law, but the lady of the house. This book articulates a theory of punishment with mercy and illustrates the implications of that theory with legal examples drawn from criminal law doctrine, pardons, mercy in military justice, and fictional narratives of punishment and mercy.
Linda Ross Meyer is Carmen Tortora Professor of Law at Quinnipiac University School of Law; President of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities; and Associate Editor of Journal of Law, Culture and the Humanities.
Life imprisonment has replaced the death penalty as the most common sentence imposed for heinous crimes worldwide. Consequently, it has become the leading issue of international criminal justice reform. In the first survey of its kind, Dirk van Zyl Smit and Catherine Appleton argue for a human rights–based reappraisal of this harsh punishment.
Few subjects are as intensely debated in the United States as the death penalty. Some form of capital punishment has existed in America for hundreds of years, yet the justification for carrying out the ultimate sentence is a continuing source of controversy. No Winners Here Tonight explores the history of the death penalty and the question of its fairness through the experience of a single state, Ohio, which, despite its moderate midwestern values, has long had one of the country’s most active death chambers.
In 1958, just four states accounted for half of the forty-eight executions carried out nationwide, each with six: California, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas. By the first decade of the new century, Ohio was second only to Texas in the number of people put to death each year. No Winners Here Tonight looks at this trend and determines that capital punishment has been carried out in an uneven fashion from its earliest days, with outcomes based not on blind justice but on the color of a person’s skin, the whim of a local prosecutor, or the biases of the jury pool in the county in which a crime was committed.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s work is the only comprehensive study of the history of the death penalty in Ohio. His analysis concludes that the current law, crafted by lawmakers to punish the worst of the state’s killers, doesn’t come close to its intended purpose and instead varies widely in its implementation. Welsh-Huggins takes on this controversial topic evenhandedly and with respect for the humanity of the accused and the victim alike. This exploration of the law of capital punishment and its application will appeal to students of criminal justice as well as those with an interest in law and public policy.
Over seven million Americans are either incarcerated, on probation, or on parole, with their criminal records often following them for life and affecting access to higher education, jobs, and housing. Court-ordered monetary sanctions that compel criminal defendants to pay fines, fees, surcharges, and restitution further inhibit their ability to reenter society. In A Pound of Flesh, sociologist Alexes Harris analyzes the rise of monetary sanctions in the criminal justice system and shows how they permanently penalize and marginalize the poor. She exposes the damaging effects of a little-understood component of criminal sentencing and shows how it further perpetuates racial and economic inequality.
Harris draws from extensive sentencing data, legal documents, observations of court hearings, and interviews with defendants, judges, prosecutors, and other court officials. She documents how low-income defendants are affected by monetary sanctions, which include fees for public defenders and a variety of processing charges. Until these debts are paid in full, individuals remain under judicial supervision, subject to court summons, warrants, and jail stays. As a result of interest and surcharges that accumulate on unpaid financial penalties, these monetary sanctions often become insurmountable legal debts which many offenders carry for the remainder of their lives. Harris finds that such fiscal sentences, which are imposed disproportionately on low-income minorities, help create a permanent economic underclass and deepen social stratification.
A Pound of Flesh delves into the court practices of five counties in Washington State to illustrate the ways in which subjective sentencing shapes the practice of monetary sanctions. Judges and court clerks hold a considerable degree of discretion in the sentencing and monitoring of monetary sanctions and rely on individual values—such as personal responsibility, meritocracy, and paternalism—to determine how much and when offenders should pay. Harris shows that monetary sanctions are imposed at different rates across jurisdictions, with little or no state government oversight. Local officials’ reliance on their own values and beliefs can also push offenders further into debt—for example, when judges charge defendants who lack the means to pay their fines with contempt of court and penalize them with additional fines or jail time.
A Pound of Flesh provides a timely examination of how monetary sanctions permanently bind poor offenders to the judicial system. Harris concludes that in letting monetary sanctions go unchecked, we have created a two-tiered legal system that imposes additional burdens on already-marginalized groups.
From the Gospel of Matthew to numerous US Supreme Court justices, many literary and legal sources have observed that how a society metes out punishment reveals core truths about its character. The Punitive Imagination is a collection of essays that engages and contributes to debates about the purposes and meanings of punishment in the United States.
The Punitive Imagination examines some of the critical assumptions that frame America's approach to punishment. It explores questions such as:
· What is the place of concern for human dignity in our prevailing ideologies of punishment?
· Can we justly punish the socially disadvantaged?
· What assumptions about persons, social institutions, and the ordering of social space provide the basis for American punitiveness?
· Who, if anyone, can be held responsible for excessively punitive criminal sentences?
· How does punishment depend on prevailing views of free will, responsibility, desert, blameworthiness?
· Where/how are those views subject to challenge in our punitive practices?
As Sarat posits in his introduction, the way a society punishes demonstrates its commitment to standards of judgment and justice, its distinctive views of blame and responsibility, its understandings of mercy and forgiveness, and its particular ways of responding to evil. He goes on to discuss the history of punishment in the United States and what it reveals about assumptions made about persons that “undergird” the American system of punishment.
The five additional contributors to The Punitive Imagination seek to illuminate what American practices of punishment tell us about who we are as a nation. Synthesizing cultural, sociological, philosophical, and legal perspectives, they offer a distinctive take on the meaning of punishment in America.
Sentencing in Time
Linda Ross Meyer Amherst College Press, 2017 Library of Congress KF9685.M49 2017
Exactly how is it we think the ends of justice are accomplished by sentencing someone to a term in prison? How do we relate a quantitative measure of time—months and years—to the objectives of deterring crime, punishing wrongdoers, and accomplishing justice for those touched by a criminal act? Linda Ross Meyer investigates these questions, examining the disconnect between our two basic modes of thinking about time—chronologically (seconds, minutes, hours), or phenomenologically (observing, taking note of, or being aware of the passing of time). In Sentencing in Time, Meyer asks whether—in overlooking the irreconcilability of these two modes of thinking about time—we are failing to accomplish the ends we believe the criminal justice system is designed to serve. Drawing on work in philosophy, legal theory, jurisprudence, and the history of penology, Meyer explores how, rather than condemning prisoners to an experience of time bereft of meaning, we might instead make the experience of incarceration constructively meaningful—and thus better aligned with social objectives of deterring crime, reforming offenders, and restoring justice.
Trapped in a Vice explores the consequences of a juvenile justice system that is aimed at promoting change in the lives of young people, yet ultimately relies upon tools and strategies that enmesh them in a system that they struggle to move beyond. The system, rather than the crimes themselves, is the vice. Trapped in a Vice explores the lives of the young people and adults in the criminal justice system, revealing the ways that they struggle to manage the expectations of that system; these stories from the ground level of the justice system demonstrate the complex exchange of policy and practice.
Editors Rob Warden and Steven Drizin—leaders in the field of wrongful convictions—have gathered articles about some of the most critical accounts of false confessions in the U.S. justice system from more than forty authors, including Sydney H. Schanberg, Christine Ellen Young, Alex Kotlowitz, and John Grisham. Many of the pieces originally appeared in leading magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, The Nation, the New Yorker, and the Los Angeles Times.
By grouping the cases into categories—including brainwashing, fabrication, mental fragility, police force, and unrequited innocence—the editors demonstrate similarities between cases, thereby refuting the perception that false confessions represent individual tragedies rather than a systemic flaw in the justice system. These incidents are not isolated; they are, in fact, related, and more shocking for it. But the authors of the articles excerpted, adapted, and reprinted in this collection want more for their subjects than outrage; they want to fuel change in the practices and standards that illicit false confessions in the first place. To this end, Warden and Drizin include an illuminating introduction to each category and recommendations for policy changes that would reduce false confessions. They also include a postscript for each case, providing legal updates and additional information.
The dramatic increase in U.S. prison populations since the 1970s is often blamed on the mandatory sentencing required by "three strikes" laws and other punitive crime bills. Michael O'Hear shows that the blame is actually not so easily assigned. His meticulous analysis of incarceration in Wisconsin—a state where judges have considerable discretion in sentencing—explores the reasons why the prison population has ballooned nearly tenfold over the past forty years.
O'Hear tracks the effects of sentencing laws and politics in Wisconsin from the eve of the imprisonment boom in 1970 up to the 2010s. Drawing on archival research, original public-opinion polling, and interviews with dozens of key policymakers, he reveals important dimensions that have been missed by others. He draws out lessons from the Wisconsin experience for the United States as a whole, where mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars and caused untold misery to millions of inmates and their families.