The Peculiar Forms of American Capital Punishment

By David Garland / Social Research: An International Quarterly, on 1 January 2007

There are two puzzles that confront observers of American capital punishment at the start of the 21st century. One concerns the legal and administrative arrangements through which it is enacted, which strike many commentators as irrational, or at least poorly adapted to the traditional ends of criminal justice. The other concerns the persistence of capital punishment in the USA in a period when comparable nations have decisively abandoned its use. In this essay, I will address both of these two questions, beginning with the first and offering conclusions that bear upon the second.The historical struggles around issues of capital punishment, structured as they have been by the American polity with its distinctive mix of federalism, sectionalism, and democratic populism, form the necessary basis for understanding the American present and for comparing America’s current practices with those of other western nations. Any explanation of American capital punishment ought to begin by focusing attention on these structures and these struggles.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Networks,