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When the State Kills ... The Death Penalty: A Human Rights Issue

NCJ Number
Date Published
276 pages
The death penalty is a violation of basic human rights imposed by the State and imposed disproportionately against the poor or against racial or ethnic minorities, where it does not become an effective deterrent but merely brutalizes those involved in the process.
Standard arguments supporting the death penalty, such as deterring criminals, preventing repeat offenses, meting out retribution, reducing terrorism or political violence, stopping drug trafficking, complying with public opinion, and decreasing incarceration costs, are refuted using tests of logic and experience. But alternative punishments and additional crime-fighting measures must still be explored. The drawbacks of the death penalty in practice are discussed: its discriminatory and arbitrary application; the risk to innocent prisoners; the inconsistent use of clemency; violations of international restrictions; the unexceptional nature of capital punishment in some countries; non-retroactive use; unfair trials; its use in political repression; and exclusions for the young, elderly, pregnant mothers, and the mentally ill. Many countries have recently abolished the death penalties. Other progressive developments include commutations, official commissions, international treaties, non-extradition from abolitionist countries, and decisions not to reintroduce the death penalty. The use of the death penalty in 180 countries is detailed. 17 appendixes.