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August 2, 2007

"Who Survives on Death Row?"

The title of this post is the title of this article in the August 2007 issue of the American Sociological Review, which explores the variables that seem to influence which defendants get executed after they are sentenced to death.  Here is the abstract:

What are the relationships between death row offender attributes, social arrangements, and executions?  Partly because public officials control executions, theorists view this sanction as intrinsically political.  Although the literature has focused on offender attributes that lead to death sentences, the post-sentencing stage is at least as important.  States differ sharply in their willingness to execute and less than 10 percent of those given a death sentence are executed. To correct the resulting problems with censored data, this study uses a discrete-time event history analysis to detect the individual and state-level contextual factors that shape execution probabilities.

The findings show that minority death row inmates convicted of killing whites face higher execution probabilities than other capital offenders.  Theoretically relevant contextual factors with explanatory power include minority presence in nonlinear form, political ideology, and votes for Republican presidential candidates. Inasmuch as there is little or no systematic research on the individual and contextual factors that influence execution probabilities, these findings fill important gaps in the literature.

I had a chance to see an early draft of this paper at a workshop by its lead author, OSU sociology Prof David Jacobs.  It is really interesting stuff, and adds an important empirical gloss to the debates over collateral appeal issues and appellate delays in capital punishment litigation.  I am pleased to see both the media and the blogosphere already take note of this work, though Newsweek's web coverage here is far from perfect.  Capital Defense Weekly and ODPI do a much better job keeping the reporting precise.

Some recent related posts:

August 2, 2007 at 04:06 PM | Permalink


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Best line in the Newsweek story: "We don't have much data on the nature of the crime."

Talk about "important gaps"!

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 3, 2007 10:52:02 AM

Given the time frame, California's contribution to this study would have been very limited. However, the only decisive variable for scheduling executions has been the completion of federal review--the timing of which is out of control of any state officials. There is no luxury to pick and choose which inmates to schedule for execution in California.

Posted by: ward | Aug 6, 2007 1:52:43 PM

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