Punishment and the Death Penalty
September 10, 2011
MultiMedia Resources on Punishment and the Death Penalty
- Lawrence M. Hinman
Professor of Philosophy - University of San Diego
- Martha Nussbaum
Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago
Internet Resources on the Death Penalty
Supreme Court decisions
- Cornell University School of Law provides full texts of recent Supreme
Court decisions on sentencing,
punishment, and the death
- Kansas v. Hendricks. Argued December 10, 1996 -- Decided June 23, 1997.
Joan Biskupic, "Court Gives States Leeway In Confining Sex Offenders," Washington
Post, June 24, 1997.
Search Thomas - the legislative search engine of Congress search recent and current (including pending) legislation on
punishment or the death penalty
New York Times resources
Books and Monographs
Library of Congress's on-line catalogue - The most complete listing of books and monographs dealing with punishment, the death penalty, or virtually any other
- The Sentencing Project has excellent data and overall advocates strong reforms in sentencing policy. It tracks issues about race, juveniles, women, and drug policies in particular.
- The Innocence Project, perhaps the first and most influential project dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individual.
- The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, published report in 2006.
- Bureau of Justice information and statistics.
- For updates on particular death penalty cases, see the Death
Penalty Information Center home page, which contains a very good set of
- For prison issues from a progressive or radical perspective, see
The PeaceNet Prison Issues Desk
- Dean Man Talkin', the Home
Page of Dean, a death row inmate at San Quentin Prison.
- Amnesty International
provides a position statement on its opposition to the death penalty.
- On the participation of physicians in administering the death penalty, see
- Physicians for Human Rights urges
defeat of the Death
- Citizens United For Alternatives To
The Death Penalty Home Page
Frontline: Angel on Death Row. A Portrait of
Sr. Helen Prejean (April 9, 1996)
This is a superb resource on the death penalty
and another model of what a web site can provide. It includes the following pages:
- The Real Life Cases in "Dead Man
Notebook, by Christopher Buchanan and related news
- Interviews with Elizabeth
Harvey, the mother of Faith Colleen Hathaway, who was raped and tortured and murdered
by Robert Lee Willie and Hoseph Vaccaro; with Debbie
Morris, who was abducted and raped by Willie and Vaccaro; with Sister
Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking;" and with Mike Varnado,
investigating deputy sheriff in the Hataway murder.
- "Is the Death
Penalty Unjust?" Opposing opinions by Justices Harry Blackmun and Antonin Scalia.
- American Bar Association Call for Moratorium on the Death
- Ernest van Den Haag, "The Ultimate
Punishment: A Defense"
- Jack Greenberg, "Against
the American System of Capital Punishment"
- Material on "Dead Man Walking,"including
a chapter from the book and interviews with Sr. Prejan, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins
- Guide to selected internet resources on capital
- Chronology of
capital punishment from the 17th century to the present.
Frontline: What Jennifer Saw. Examinging
Eyewitness Error in Crimes and How DNA Evidence Is Setting the Innocent Free. February 25, 1996
"Identified by the victim, Ronald Cotton
spent eleven years in prison for rape. But in 1995, DNA evidence proved that Cotton could
not have been the attacker. With unprecedented access to the central figures in the
investigation, confidential police reports and legal files, FRONTLINE delves into the
Cotton case, examining the reliability of eyewitness identification and the implications
of DNA evidence for the American justice system. In an exclusive interview, Jennifer
Thompson tells the story of her brutal rape and how, twelve years later, she must confront
the consequences of her mistaken identification. Producer: Ben Loeterman."
NPR's "Talk of the Nation"
Pinochet and Justice (14.4
Host: Melinda Penkava. The extradition trial of Augusto
Pinochet has begun in England. If extradited, the former Chilean dictator
could face trial in Spain on charges of crimes against humanity. But is it
right to take Pinochet's fate out of the hands of the people who suffered
under his rule? Join Melinda Penkava and guests for a look at the Pinochet
case, and the questions it raises about extradition, sovereignty, and who
has the right to enforce justice, on the next Talk of the Nation, from
NPR News. (September 28, 1999)
What Happened to Rehabilitating Prisoners?
Host: Ray Suarez "Lock 'em up and throw away the key"
may sound good, but the fact is, most prisoners aren't serving life sentences.
It would seem to be in our best interest to reform convicts before they hit
the street again, but advocating prisoner rehabilitation is not exactly politically
fashionable. Join Ray Suarez and guests to examine the difficulties of rehabilitation.
(Sept. 21, 1999)
Host: Ray Suarez. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin
Hatch says he will subpoena documents relating to President Clinton's offer
of clemency to members of a Puerto Rican separatist group. The White House
has invoked executive privilege in refusing to turn over the documents, calling
the subpoena politically motivated. Join Ray Suarez and guests to examine
the history and politics of Presidential pardons.
(Sept. 20, 1999)
Boston's Approach to Fighting Crime
Host: Ray Suarez. Boston's crime rate
has dropped dramatically in the 1990s. Last year, 16 young people were killed
by guns compared to 51 in 1990. So what is Boston doing right? They've created
the "Boston Strategy," a law and order program involving just about
everyone: police, prosecutors, the courts, social workers, clergyand, most
importantly, the community. The "strategy" brings the community
groups together with city, state and federal agencies. They crack down on
illicit gun traffickers while sitting down with suspected gang leaders to
tell them the heat is coming if they don't stop the violence. Ray Suarez and
guests will look at the "Boston Strategy" for fighting crime and
ask if it can serve as a model for other cities across the country.
(July 14, 1999)
Violence and Kids Host:
Ray Suarez. Images of violence are everywhere today -- in movies, on
television, on line, in the news, and in video games. Some experts say children
today are becoming desensitized to violence and that they're having trouble
separating the lines between reality and fantasy. Does violent programming
contribute to a violent society? Join Ray Suarez and guests for a look at
violence in public entertainment and its impact on kids.
(June 2, 1998)
Juvenile Justice Host:
Ray Suarez. The recent Jonesboro shooting raised anew the level of concern
about juvenile crime. In the wake of a crisis like Jonesboro, long prison
terms are often proposed for young offenders as a way to curb youth crime.
But with an exploding number of prisons and prisoners, detention facilities
seem an ineffective deterrent. Join Ray and guests for a look at new alternatives
to reduce juvenile crime. (April 15, 1998)
Juvenile Crime/Mental Health Host:
Ray Suarez. The vast majority of children in the juvenile justice system
reportedly have some sort of mental or emotional problem. But most of those
kids don't get the help they need ... the institutions are often overcrowded
and offer inadequate counseling, substance abuse and suicide prevention programs.
Join Ray Suarez and guests for a look at the availability and quality of mental
health services in the juvenile justice system.
(March 3, 1998)
Karla Faye Tucker/Death Penalty
Suarez. Condemned killer Karla Faye
Tucker says she's a changed woman, and should be able to spend the rest of her
life in prison. But the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles has cleared the way
for her execution today [Tuesday]. Only Texas governor George Bush or the US
Supreme Court can postpone it now. Join host Ray Suarez for a look at the case
of Karla Faye Tucker - redemption, judicial mercy, and capital punishment in the
state of Texas ...on the next Talk of the Nation, from NPR News. (February
Death Penalty . Host: Neal Conan. Several high-profile federal capital cases,
including the Oklahoma City bombing trials and the Unabomber case, have again raised the
debate over the death penalty. Critics say defendants are hurt by the lack of clear
guidelines determining if they're eligible for capital punishment. Join guest host Neal
Conan for a look at who decides whether a defendant should face the death penalty and
sentencing patterns across the country.¶(January 13,
Competency in the Courts . Host:
Neal Conan. Following last week's suicide attempt,
Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski will be examined for mental illness. The possibility
of an insanity plea in Kazcynski's case is creating public outcry and a quandary for legal
and mental health practitioners. There are no clear-cut rules determining whether a
defendent is mentally competent to stand trial or possibly defend himself. Guest Host Neal
Conan and guests look at issues regarding insanity and competency in the courts.
(January 13, 1998)
- The Death Penalty .
Host: Ray Suarez. Guests: Judge Alex Kozinski, Judge,
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 1985-present, Author of
"Tinkering With Death," The New Yorker - 2/10/97; Judge Steve
Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 1980-present; and others.
(February 11, 1997)
- Fighting Crime .
Guests: William J. Bratton, Former Commissioner, New
York City Police Force; Catherine M. Coles,
Co-author, Fixing Broken
Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities; George L.
Kelling, Co-author, Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime
in Our Communities. (October 31,
- The Death Penalty .
Guests: Sean O'Brien, Criminal Defense Attorney; Susan Bowland, Office of the Attorney
General for Georgia. (July 2, 1996)
- Sexual Offenders
Law. Guests: Dr. Fred Berlin, Founder and Director, National
Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma, Founder of the Johns
Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic, Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins
University; Rep. Dick Zimmer (R-NJ). (June 18,
Hugh LaFollette's "Ideas
On-Line Full Text Articles Relating to Punishment and the Death Penalty
John Stuart Mill,
"Speech In Favor of Capital Punishment."
Case Against Capital Punishment."
- This is the classic statement against the death penalty.
Rawls, "Two Concepts of Rules."
- Rawls' article has set the stage for contemporary philosophical discussions of
Harry Blackmun, dissent in Callins v. Collins
Justice and Legal Reparations as an Alternative to Punishment"
Argues that the most attractive and plausible justifications for punishment
-- whether they appeal to desert, or to deterrence, or to moral expression
and education -- all actually recommend a system of legal reparations that
is distinct from, and in crucial respects preferable to, a system of punishment
to Gerald Gaus and David Estlund on 'Criminal Justice and Legal Reparations'."
Deterrence Hypothesis and Picking Pockets at the Pickpocket's Hangin."
Suber, Peter. "Against
the Sanctity of Life"
Fieser, James. "Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Capital Punishment"
Fieser, James, ed. "Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cesare Beccaria"
Kleinig, John. "The
Hardness of Hard Treatment."
Hinman, Lawrence M. "Stunning
Morality: The Moral Dimensions of Stun Belts"
Time Magazine Cover Stories, February 7, 1994 Volume 143, No. 6.
Magazine Cover Story on Capital Punishment and Timothy McVeigh. (June 16, 1997) Vol.
149, No. 24.
A Bibliographical Survey on Punishment and the Death Penalty
Biliographical essays are drawn from Lawrence M. Hinman,
Contemporary Moral Issues, 2nd Edition
There are a number of excellent anthologies on punishment, many of which contain
articles on the death penalty in particular. See Punishment and the Death Penalty: The
Current Debate, edited by Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum (Buffalo, New York:
Prometheus Books, 1995); Punishment: A Philosophy and Public Affairs Reader, edited
by A. John Simmons, Marshall Cohen, Joshua Cohen, and Charles R. Beitz (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1995); Philosophy of Punishment, edited by Robert M.
Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1988); Punishment:
Selected Readings, ed. Joel Feinberg and Hyman Gross (Encino, California: Dickenson
Publishing Company, 1975); Philosophical Perspectives on Punishment, edited by
Gertrude Ezorsky (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1972); The Philosophy of
Punishment: A Collection of Papers, edited by H. B. Acton (New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1969); Theories of Punishment, edited by Stanley E. Grupp (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1971). In contrast to such comparatively modern problems as
abortion and in vitro fertilization, punishment has been a theme for philosophers
The anthology by Ezorsky contains an excellent selection of classical sources as
well as contemporary authors. Also see Plato's Laws, Jeremy Bentham's An
Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1967),
especially Chapter 13, Section 2; Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysical Elements of Justice,
Part I of The Metaphysics of Morals, translated by John Ladd (Indianapolis:
Bobbs-Merrill, 1965); and G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, translated by T.
M. Knox (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1962).
Among the influential contemporary articles and books, see especially Jeffrie G.
Murphy, "Marxism and Retribution," Philosophy & Public Affairs 2, no.
3 (Spring, 1973), pp. argues in favor of a retributivist view of punishment that is
compatible with the Marxist tradition; also see his Retribution, Justice and Therapy
(Dordrecht: Reidel, 1979). Edmund L. Pincoffs, The Rationale Of Legal Punishment (New
York: Humanities Press, 1966) is an eloquent defense of a retributivist view of
punishment. Also see Ernest van den Haag, Punishing Criminals (New York: Basic
Books, 1975). John Cottingham, "Punishment," The Encyclopedia of Ethics,
edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker ( New York: Garland, 1992), Vol. II,
pp. 1053-55 and Stanley I. Benn, "Punishment," The Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
Vol. 7, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1967), p. 29-36 both offer excellent
surveys of the major issues about punishment. Among the noteworthy articles, see Andrew
von Hirsch, "Doing Justice: The Principle of Commensurate Deserts," and Hyman
Gross, "Proportional Punishment and Justifiable Sentences," in Sentencing,
eds. H. Gross and A. von Hirsch (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 243-56 and
272-83, respectively, offer perspicuous discussions of retributivism and punishment. Also
see Michael Davis, "How to Make the Punishment Fit the Crime," Ethics,
Vol. 93 (July, 1983), pp. 744 ff. And Herbert Morris, "Persons and Punishment," The
Monist 52, no. 4 (October I968), pp. 475-50l, which argues that criminals have a
natural, inalienable and absolute right to be punished that derives from their fundamental
right to be treated as a person. For a detailed and nuanced discussion of the issue of
retributivism in punishment, see Marvin Henberg, Retribution: Evil for Evil in Ethics,
Law, and Literature (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).
Among the many books and anthologies on the death penalty, see the selections
and exchanges in Hugo Adam Bedau, The Death Penalty in America, Third Edition (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1982); Ernest van den Haag and John P. Conrad, The Death
Penalty: A Debate (New York: Plenum Press, 1983). Also see Walter Berns, For
Capital Punishment: Crime and the Morality of the Death Penalty (New York: Basic
Books, 1979); Charles Black, Capital Punishment: The Inevitability of Caprice and
Mistake, 2nd edition (New York: W. W. Norton, 1976); Robert Johnson, Condemned to
Die: Life Under Sentence of Death (New York: Elsevier, 1981); Jeffrey H. Reiman,
The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice,
2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley, 1984); Stephen Nathanson, An Eye for an Eye: The
Morality of Punishing by Death (Totowa: Rowman Littlefield, 1987); and The Death
Penalty: Opposing Viewpoints, edited by Carol Wekesser (San Diego: Greenhaven Press,
1991) contains a good balance of short pieces.
Among the many helpful articles on capital punishment, see Hugo Adam Bedau
excellent's overview, analysis, and bibliography in "Capital Punishment," The
Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker ( New
York: Garland, 1992), Vol. I, pp. 122-25; Stanley I. Benn, "Punishment," The
Encyclopedia of Philosophy 7, ed. Paul Edwards [New York: Macmillan, 1967], p. 32 ff.;
and Richard Wasserstrom, "Capital Punishment as Punishment: Some Theoretical Issues
and Objections," Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 7, pp. 473-502,
who raises a number of objections to capital punishment, not because it is capital, but
because it is punishment. On the inhumanity of the death penalty, see Michael Davis
has recently argued in "The Death Penalty, Civilization, and Inhumaneness," Social
Theory and Practice, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Summer, 1990), pp. 245-259, that the
"argument from inhumaneness" advanced by Reiman and Bedau lacks an adequate
account of inhumaneness. Jeffrey Reiman replied to Davis in "The Death Penalty,
Deterrence, and Horribleness: Reply to Michael Davis," Social Theory and Practice,
Vol. 16, No. 2 (Summer, 1990), pp. 261-272. Also see Thomas A. Long, "Capital
Punishment&endash'Cruel And Unusual'?", Ethics, Vol. 83 (April, 1973), pp.
214-223 and the reply by Robert S. Gerstein, "Capital Punishment&endash'Cruel And
Unusual:' A Retributivist Response," Ethics, Vol. 85 (October, 1974), pp.
75-79. On the irrevocability of capital punishment, see Michael Davis, "Is The
Death Penalty Irrevocable?" Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 10 (Summer, 84),
pp.143-156, argues that there is no morally significant sense in which the death penalty
is more irrevocable than life imprisonment; the death penalty is only distinctive in
regard to the more modest claim about what we can do to correct error in application. On
the arbitrariness of the death penalty, see especially Christopher Meyers, in
"Racial Bias, the Death Penalty, and Desert," Philosophical Forum,
(Winter, 1990-91) pp. 139-148, supports McCleskey v. Kemp (1987), in which the
Supreme Court's ruled that racial bias was not sufficient ground for overturning a death
sentence, as long as punishment is seen as retribution and as long as defendants do not
receive more punishment than they deserve; Brian Calvert, in "Retribution,
Arbitrariness and the Death Penalty," Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 23,
No. 3 (Winter, 92), pp. 140-165, which argues that the administration of the death penalty
is arbitrary because there is not a sufficiently clear distinction in kind between murders
that deserve execution and murders that deserve life imprisonment. On the deterrent
effect of the death penalty, see Ernest Van Den Haag, "Deterrence And The Death
Penalty: A Rejoinder," Ethics, Vol. 81 (October, 1970), pp. 74-75; Hugo Adam
Bedau, "A Concluding Note," Ethics, Vol. 81, (October, 1970) p. 76;
Michael Davis, "Death, Deterrence, and the Method of Common Sense," Social
Theory and Practice, Vol. 7, (Summer, 1981), pp. 145-178, uses what he calls the
"method of common sense" to show that the death penalty is the most effective
humane deterrent available to us. Steven Goldberg, "On Capital Punishment," Ethics,
Vol. 85 (October, 1974), pp. 67-74, argues in favor of capital punishment for its
deterrent effect on potential criminals and George Schedler, "Capital Punishment And
Its Deterrent Effect," Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 4 (Fall 76), pp. 47-56
refutes the "innocent people" argument. David A. Conway, "Capital
Punishment and Deterrence: Some Considerations in Dialogue Form," Philosophy &
Public Affairs 3, no. 4 (Summer 1974), pp. 433 ff.
Recent Popular Literature on Punishment and the Death Penalty
1. Punishment and Prisons
- Tina Rosenberg, "The Deadliest DA," New
York Times Magazine, July 16, 1995.
- Although this article is primarily about Lynne Abraham, the
district Attorney of Philadelphia, is it very interesting from a moral point of view
because it points out the ways in which the local prosecutor plays a major role in
determining whether the death penalty is going to be requested in a particular case. It
also contains interesting descriptions of current prosecutorial and penal procedures and
proposals--e.g., proposals to reintroduce caning are currently under consideration in ten
states--that raise important moral issues.
- George Fletcher, With Justice for Some.
(Addison-Wesley, 1995). An excellent discussion of victims' rights in criminal trials.
- Joyce Purnick, "A Victim
Says Attack Injuries Never Heal," New York Times, June 17, 1996. Powerful
account of the aftereffects of assault on a victim.
2. The Death Penalty
- Mark Costanzo, Just
Revenge: Costs and Consequences of the Death Penalty. The
book is an examination of the costs and consequences of the death penalty and questions
the justice it gives to society, and has received much acclaim for its insight into the
death penalty. As Gerry Spence, author of How to Argue and Win Every Time stated,
"This voice in the wilderness needs to be heard. Before we can become a civilized
nation, we must stop the
Killing -- ours first. Mark Costanzo, in this compassionate and intelligent book, leads
Suggestions for Discussion Questions and Term Paper Topics
The Rights and Privileges of Prisoners
- During the past year, there has been increasing discussion of the rights and privileges
of prisoners. Some of these--such as exercise and weight lifting--relate to the prisoners'
physical capabilities after release. Others--such as access to law books--may affect
whether and when they are released. Others--these include requirements for hard physical
labor, such as chain gangs, as well as privleges such as television--relate to the
question of how unpleasant the prison experience should be. A discussion of these issues
takes us to the heart of what punishment is all about. Is it intended primarily to reform,
to deter, or is its purpose mainly retributive? Are there any limits on how unpleasant the
prison experience can be made? At what point does punishment become torture?
Justice and Money
- The OJ trial was one of the most expensive in history, and it is clear that Simpson's
financial resources enabled him to mount a defense vastly superior to anything that most
individuals would be able to present. Furthermore, those same financial resources made it
much easier for the defense to remain one step ahead of the prosecution from the very
beginning. What role should money play in the criminal justice system? The demands of
justice seem to stress that we try to be impartial, to treat all defendants the same; yet
money seems to insure that some defendants will be treated differently than others. The
public defender system attempts to remedy some of these inequalities. Should be be any
additional restrictions or changes in the system to insure more equal treatment for rich
and poor before the law?
Justice and Race
- The verdict in the OJ trial raised a number of important questions about the place of
race in the criminal justice system. To what extent do you think that race was an issue in
deciding on OJ's guilt or innocence? What is the proper role of race in such
The Death Penalty, IQ, and Age
- We are shocked when terrible crimes are perpetrated by individuals who are extremely
young. Time Magazine, for example, published "Murder in
Minature," the story of 11 yr old Yummy Sandifer--who killed and was killed in
Chicago. Recently, a convicted murderer with an IQ of 70 was executed. What restrictions
should we have on those who can be sentenced to death? Should there be a minimum age, such
that convicted felons under that age cannot be sentenced to death? Should there be an
minimum IQ, such that convicted felons who are below that IQ cannot be senteced to death
either because they may have had diminished responsibility in the first place or because
they would have a diminished ability to participate in their own defense?
Wrongful Murder Convictions and the Death Penalty
- What are the implications, if any, of the fact that sometimes we wrongfully convict--and
in some cases, execute--people for murder? Should this be seen in utilitarian terms, or
should the death of just a single innocent person be sufficient to dissuade us from the
use of this penalty? To what extent are such convictions racially biased? For a recent
example of such a cnviction, see Don Terry , "DNA Tests, Confession Set 3 on the Path
to Freedom in 1978 Murders," The New York Times, June 15, 1996. "Four
black men, falsely convicted of murder and rape and having spent 18 years in prison, are
now free - in large part because of DNA tests and the efforts of supporters who gathered
evidence." The Northern Illinois University Department of Sociology maintains
statistics on wrongful murder
Executions and Suffering
- Sometimes criminals suffer more during their executions than is
anticipated or planned. See, for example, the Time Magazine account (May 23, 1994) of the
execution of John Wayne Gacy, "A
Twist Before Dying" by David Seideman. What is the moral significance of cases
such as these? Is it a factor in deciding whether the death penalty should be permitted?
Wht counts as "cruel and unusual" punishment? Although there are obviously
degrees of cruelty, is the death penalty inherently cruel?
Punishment and Cronic Sex Offenders
- What punishment should be administered to chronic sex offenders? See the article by
James Walsh, "The
Terror and the Pity," Time, September 2, 1996, about the case in Belgium
where two girls were tortured and murdered by a chronic sex offender. Also see the
accompanying article on pedephiles by Alice Park, "Why
Do They Do Those Horrible Things?" What are the moral strengths and weaknesses of
the bill recently passed in the California Senate permitting chemical castration for child