We have compiled a list of valuable books that discuss capital punishment, the criminal justice system, and social reform. Some are primarily analytical texts and some are emotional in nature, but all are valuable in educating us about the problems of today and helping us envision the solutions of tomorrow. Order through Amazon Smile and a portion of the proceeds will go to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
A woman pledged to “love the unloved” and began written correspondence with over 50 death row inmates, both innocent and guilty. Here, in this poignant and emotional volume, she has compiled letters from 31 of those inmates. My Friends on Death Row gives a voice to the silenced, bringing to light heart-wrenching stories that are far too important to ignore.
Alexander presents a brilliant analysis of American race relations in The New Jim Crow, a text designed to illustrate how the caste structure formed during slavery and the Jim Crow Era still persists today, only with a new mechanism and face in the prison-industrial complex. In painstaking detail, this book shows that the justice system, while believed to operate under colorblind principles, has marginalized and disenfranchised communities of color, reinforcing the deeply entrenched patterns of inequality that have defined race in America.
In Gruesome Spectacles, legal scholar Austin Sarat explores the execution methods used in America from 1980 to present and finds a proliferation of botched executions across all forms, despite the promises of safety and humanity made by each “improvement.” He questions how, in this realm of unreliability, the state can uphold its constitutional promise not to inflict “cruel and unusual punishment” while continuing to use the death penalty.
It’s All the Rage deconstructs the debate on capital punishment, looking at arguments on both the logistical considerations of capital punishment in America and the ethical dimensions of state sponsored killing. Kaminer asks her readers to think deeply about crime and punishment, analyzing the cultural forces and individual emotions that inform our understanding of criminal justice and presenting a passionate and insightful critique of capital punishment. This book brings the discussion about who deserves to die and who deserves to kill into new and important territory.
David Cole, a Georgetown law professor and civil liberties advocate, presents a compelling critique of race and class bias in the American criminal justice system in No Equal Justice. This book shows that all levels of the justice system, including judges, legislators, and law enforcement officers, are infused with preconceived assumptions about criminality that lead to the rampant mistreatment of many and unchecked privilege for others. Cole goes beyond merely identifying fault and suggests ambitious alternatives to mass incarceration like community-based justice systems.
In 2000, when a prosecuting attorney shifted a double-homicide case out of state jurisdiction and into federal courts, Michael Ponsor became the first judge in Massachusetts to preside over a capital case in the post Furman v. Georgia era. Now, in the form of a fictional novel, Ponsor has relayed many of his experiences in gripping suspense, providing an inside look into a federal death penalty trial in this fast-paced, thought-provoking story.
The execution of Troy Davis in September of 2011 marked one of the largest ever moments of mass mobilization against the death penalty. Written by Jen Marlow and Davis’ sister, Martina Correia-Davis, I Am Troy Davis details his life, the events that led to his arrest, his 20-year fight to prove his innocence, and the movement that sprung from his story. Marlow and Davis present a tragic tale, but one imbued with hope that people will learn from this story and never repeat it again.
This critique of capital punishment displays the stories of nineteen wrongfully executed people. Stack shows the potential for error in capital sentencing, which is compounded by racial bias, mistaken eyewitness accounts, and inadequate legal support, is far too great when administering an irreversible punishment like the death penalty. This book captures the tragedy of a wrongful execution and, in doing so, creates an irrefutable argument for the abolition of the death penalty.
This book positions the American death penalty within a historical progression, unearthing shocking threads between reprehensible practices of the past and the failings of the justice system today, ultimately helping show the impact of capital punishment on today’s society in new light. Authors Jesse Jackson, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Salon Editor Bruce Shapiro construct a compelling narrative, showing how punishment, race, and class have been deeply intertwined since the conception of American society and bringing many issues inherent in capital punishment sentencing under scrutiny.