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.
Where Justice and Mercy Meet: Catholic Opposition to the Death Penalty Edited by Vicki Schieber, Trudy Conway, and David Matzko McCarthy
Where Justice and Mercy Meet comprehensively explores the Catholic position on capital punishment. Featuring chapters about race, international trends, disability, methods of execution, and more, this book offers insights to all those interested in learning about the death penalty: Catholics, non-Catholics, those just learning about the practice, and those who are already informed.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson is the founder of Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants who are otherwise unable to receive fair treatment in the legal system. His powerful New York Times bestseller weaves history, sociology, and personal detail into a narrative that addresses one question: does the Justice System fail the disenfranchised?
Death Work: A Study of the Modern Execution Process by Robert Johnson
When Robert Johnson set out to write this book he did not have a set position on the death penalty. However, his study of the execution process led him to develop a masterful argument against the practice on moral and practical grounds. He details what life is like on death row and how that affects both the condemned and those who work there. The result is a fascinating study of America’s death penalty from an angle that is not often addressed.
Kirk Bloodsworth always maintained his innocence after he was accused of raping and murdering a nine-year-old girl in 1984. Despite the improper use of evidence in his case, he was convicted and sentenced to die in Maryland’s gas chamber. After sending letters of petition to everyone from Ronald Reagan to Willie Nelson and unknowingly meeting the real murderer and spending eight years in prison, Bloodsworth was eventually exonerated by DNA testing.
Life Without Parole: America’s New Death Penalty? Edited by Charles Ogletree Jr. and Austin Sarat
This comprehensive anthology examines life without parole and the social, cultural, political, and legal implications of its recent growth in popularity. The authors conclude that being sentenced to die in prison is a new death penalty, and as such is just as ethically complex as capital punishment.
Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo
This compelling narrative tells the story of Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton. Jennifer was in college when a man wielding a knife broke into her apartment and raped her. Later, Jennifer confidently identified Ronald Cotton as her assailant. Cotton was convicted and spent eleven years in prison before being exonerated by a DNA test. The story could end there, but it does not. After his release, Cotton reached out to Jennifer and offered his forgiveness. The two formed a friendship and now work together on other cases of injustice in the United States.
Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire by Robert Perkinson
Although it is widely acknowledged that America’s prison system is problematic and overly large, few states have prison systems with incarceration rates as high as Texas. Mandatory minimum sentencing, executions, isolation, and prison privatization all come together to make Texas the most punitive state in the union. This profile of America’s prison history explains the racial underpinnings of an unjust system and points toward the potential for a just future.
It may seem as though those who forgive their loved one’s murderers are either saints or eccentrics, but this book points out that they are neither. They are normal people who have chosen to respond to tragic situations in extraordinary ways. Rachel King shares the stories of murder victim’s family members in a way that appeals to both individuals interested in America’s justice system and individuals who are curious about forgiving the unforgivable.
Imprisoned by the Past: Warren McCleskey and the American Death Penalty by Jeff Kirchmeier
In this engaging book, Jeff Kirchmeier traces the history of the death penalty from the first hanging by early settlers through lethal injections and examines the role race and racism played in that history. He provides shocking examples of the institution of lynching, analysis about the rulings of the Supreme Court and illustrates how today’s death penalty remains imprisoned by the past.
Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family by David Kaczynski
In August 1995 David Kaczynski's wife Linda asked him a difficult question: "Do you think your brother Ted is the Unabomber?" He couldn't be, David thought. But as the couple pored over the Unabomber's seventy-eight-page manifesto, David couldn't rule out the possibility. It slowly became clear to them that Ted was likely responsible for mailing the seventeen bombs that killed three people and injured many more. Wanting to prevent further violence, David made the agonizing decision to turn his brother in to the FBI.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has created the 90 Million Strong Campaign to unite the voices of those who believe the death penalty is wrong. We need to demonstrate that the broad public support to end this practice is already here in America, and 90 million people speaking up can make a difference.
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