In June, Palgrave MacMillan will publish in Great Britain my first book, Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in Global Perspective. You can pre-order it at Palgrave's website here, at Amazon.com here, and at Amazon.de here.
The book grew, in part, out of the many conversations I've had with Europeans about the perennial question: Why is the United States one of the last industrialized democracies to carry out capital punishment? There are many theories -- a good overview can be found in this article by Harvard law professor Carol Steiker.
The more I thought about the question, though, the more I became interested in the other side: how did Europe manage to end executions? Abolishing capital punishment is, after all, an unusual step -- most countries still have the death penalty, and it enjoys majority support in many different countries and cultures.
I focus primarily on three successful abolition movements, in Germany (abolition in 1949), Great Britain (1969), and France (1981). I look at historical background to the modern abolition movements, profiling the leaders, the tactics, and the strategies. I find that in all of the countries I look at, the struggle to abolish capital punishment was generally led by the political and educational elite: professors of criminal law and criminology, human-rights activists, lawyers, and other educated professionals. The final phase of legal abolition was always led by skilled parliamentary tacticians such as Dr. Thomas Dehler in Germany, Sydney Silverman in the United Kingdom, and Robert Badinter in France.
The death penalty has never been abolished because of grass-roots pressure. In fact, as I argue in the first part of the book, support for capital punishment is the 'default' position of most people, and typical arguments against the death penalty -- the risk of executing innocent people, cost, lack of deterrence -- have little effect on mass opinion. In all three countries I look at, the political elite was far in advance of the general public, who continued to support capital punishment by large majorities for decades after it was legally ended.
After the chapters dealing with France, Germany, and the UK, I broaden the focus to what made it possible to abolish capital punishment in these three countries. Many people point to cultural or historical factors (and these are certainly part of the explanation), but I argue that the importance of structural factors: Is criminal-justice policy made on a national or local level? How accountable are politicians to public opinion about crime? How much control do non-political experts and civil servants have over the justice system? The answers to these questions clearly distinguish the United States from Europe and the UK. They also provide a framework for analyzing the prospects for abolition in the many nations, such as Japan, China, and India, that still execute prisoners.
I tried to write Ending the Death Penalty for a non-specialist audience. There are some discussions of laws and judicial opinions, but nothing very technical, since the questions I'm discussing are more political than they are strictly legal. I hope you'll consider buying a copy, or requesting that your friendly neighborhood library buy one.