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America Without the Death Penalty: States Leading the Way

America Without the Death Penalty:
States Leading the Way

by John F. Galliher, Larry W. Koch, David Patrick Keys,

and Teresa J. Guess. Northeastern Univ. Press, Boston, 2002,

280 pages, hardcover $35.00

Review by Robert H. Woodman

Death penalty foes seeking to abolish government-sanctioned murder in their states now have a new tool for the task. America Without the Death Penalty, unlike many books written by academics and published by university presses, enlightens much and bores little.

The four authors, sociology professors in various universities, organized a study of nine states that voluntarily abolished the death penalty (Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Hawaii, Alaska, Iowa, and West Virginia). The authors sought answers to six empirical research questions: (1) the relationship between murder rates, execution history, and death penalty abolition; (2) state economies and the death penalty; (3) public sentiment and the death penalty; (4) the role of social, political, and economic elites in abolishing the death penalty; (5) the relationship between the mass media and death penalty abolition; and (6) the relationship between population diversity and death penalty abolition. The book also touches briefly on death penalty abolition in Washington, D.C. and in three states Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont where state courts have struck down the death penalty.

Although it is well-known that the death penalty is racist, this book presents that racism in unambiguous, striking numbers. Prior to abolition, every state studied executed disproportionately more minorities than whites. Also striking is the degree of dissimilarity among the states studied. Beyond that, the study's summary provides some clear reference points for death penalty abolitionists to use in attacking the death penalty in their own states. The endnotes are extensive, and the bibliography is comprehensive.

I do have one quibble with this otherwise excellent book: the writing style is uneven and occasionally unobjective. Tighter style editing could have fixed this. Nevertheless, this book is a valuable gem for death penalty abolitionists. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone interested in the death penalty and its abolition.

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