David GarlandPeculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition

Harvard University Press, 2010

by Benjamin Smith on August 5, 2013

David Garland

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Why is it that the United States continues to enforce the death penalty when the rest of the Western world abolished its use a little over three decades ago? That question, along with many other equally important questions, is at the heart of Dr. David Garland’s recent book Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition (Harvard University Press, 2010). His provocative study highlights the uneven application of capital punishment America––a phenomenon widely discussed but rarely understood––and offers a succinct and thoughtful analysis of the historical roots of this contemporary problem.

Comparing the modern form of state execution (lethal injection) with original, brutal, forms of state execution (pressing, dismemberment, burning, beheading), Garland dissects the sociocultural and political uses of capital punishment and how they changed over the centuries, evolving to meet the needs of a modern liberal democracy. These liberal adaptations, as Garland explains, forced executions from the public gallows into private rooms within prisons, created a mandatory legal procedure of “super due-process,” and sought to diminish cruel and unusual bodily harm to the offender. But have these adaptations nullified its original purposes? For instance, various studies have shown that the death penalty does not act a deterrent to criminals or serve retributive purposes to the victims and their families. Given these facts, what purposes does it serve, if any? Do these reasons justify retention of the practice? Listen in for more!

Dr. Garland is Arthur T. Vanderbilt Professor of Law and Professor of Sociology at New York University. Peculiar Institution is the recipient of numerous awards including: 2012 Michael J. Hindelang Award (American Society of Criminology), 2012 Edwin H. Sutherland Award (American Society of Criminology), 2011 Barrington Moore Book Award (American Sociological Association), Co-Winner 2011 Mary Douglas Prize (American Sociological Association), A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of 2011, and the 2010 Association of American Publishers PROSE Award for Excellence.

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