Category Archives: Capital punishment

A Confederate South effect in homicide rates, and other interesting articles from the Social Science Journal

My life’s a bit busy at the moment with not much time for considered blogging. Forgive me if, for a little while, I post interesting titbits without much commentary (better, I think, than posting nothing at all, or posting ill-considered commentary).

Three articles caught my eye in the latest issue of The Social Science Journal. The first is on homicide in the US South:

A significant literature has evolved in the last 40 years investigating regional variation in lethal violence, with most studies focusing on Southern homicide rates…. We investigate regional variations in the effects of resource deprivation on White homicide in rural areas—a context in which the Southern culture of violence should be most prominent….The results of our county-level analyses of census and homicide data around the year 2000 reveal that White homicide rates are higher in Confederate South states and that resource deprivation has a positive association with White homicide. The effect of resource deprivation also accounts for the Confederate South effect, and an interaction model indicates that the effect of this variable is significantly stronger in the non-South as predicted by the attenuation argument. Overall, these results suggest that both structural and cultural forces contribute to rural White homicide rates.

Next up, an article on “the degree to which individuals’ perceptions of concrete events of harassment and violence mirror the interpretive frameworks offered by proponents of hate crime legislation”:

… Specifically, the study examines the determinants of definitions of hate crime and perceptions of seriousness, focusing on both incident-level and respondent-level variables. Using data from a multilevel factorial survey gathered from a sample of undergraduates, I find a general alignment between the political construction of hate crimes and college student perceptions of incidents of harassment and violence, although sensitivity to hate crimes varies by witness demographic and attitudinal characteristic.

Finally, J. Keith Price and Gary R. Byrd attempt to answer the question of whether capital murderers (murderers who are executed) are “more likely to murder or commit other violent crimes again” if they had not been executed, compared to “other murderers or the average citizen”:

… To answer these questions, many states require a prediction of future dangerousness of a newly convicted murderer. To what extent has the judgment of future dangerousness matched actuarial data of subsequent murders and serious crimes? Using a secondary analysis, this investigation attempted to assemble available data of postconviction dangerousness of death sentenced capital murderers to create a more comprehensive actuarial account of subsequent dangerousness and to present the data in a common format used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Across 14 studies identified with relevant data, there were 13 instances of subsequent murder and 462 serious crime or prison rule violations.

Reports round-up: stop and search, persistent criminals, death penalty, judges and drugs

ex libris gul law reports collectionLatest criminal justice-related reports via Docuticker

Analysis of Racial Disparities in the New York Police Department’s Stop, Question, and Frisk Practices, published by RAND (full report and summary available via the link):

In 2006, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) stopped a half-million pedestrians for suspected criminal involvement. Raw statistics for these encounters suggest large racial disparities — 89 percent of the stops involved nonwhites…researchers analyzed data on all street encounters between NYPD officers and pedestrians in 2006. …They found small racial differences in these rates and make communication, recordkeeping, and training recommendations to the NYPD for improving police-pedestrian interactions.

Manuel Utset, in Hyperbolic Criminals and Repeated Time-Inconsistent Misconduct, (Houston Law Review via SSRN, full text available), uses economic models to try and understand why criminals become repeat offenders:

… even a relatively small preference for immediate gratification and over-optimism about their future self-control can lead hyperbolic criminals to repeatedly commit welfare-reducing crimes – i.e., those that (from a detached, long-term perspective) have negative expected returns. [The paper] develops a theory of repeated criminal misconduct that incorporates the findings of the growing behavioral economics literature on hyperbolic discounting and self-control problems; …identifies various deterrence implications of the theory; … explains a number of well-known empirical puzzles of neoclassical theory, including why policymakers punish repeat offenders more harshly and spend more on enforcement than the theory predicts…

Also via SSRN, The Heart Has its Reasons: Examining the Strange Persistence of the American Death Penalty by Susan Bandes (published in Studies in Law, Politics and Society, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2008, full text available):

The debate about the future of the death penalty often focuses on whether its supporters are animated by instrumental or expressive values, and if the latter, what values the penalty does in fact express, where those values originated, and how deeply entrenched they are. In this article I argue that a more explicit recognition of the emotional sources of support for and opposition to the death penalty will contribute to the clarity of the debate.

  • See also: a report from the American Bar Association which reported that “based on a detailed analysis of death penalty systems in eight sample states, the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project identified key problems common to the states studied, including major racial disparities, inadequate indigent defense services and irregular clemency review processes – making their death penalty systems operate unfairly” (released 29 Oct; key findings available in Word format).

Frederick Schauer at the Harvard University John F Kennedy School of Government attempts to answer the question Is There a Psychology of Judging?
(Working Paper Number:RWP07-049, full text available):

Psychologists have recently begun to study the psychological dimensions of judging, but to date almost all of the research has been on lay experimental subjects. Implicit in the research, therefore, is that the judge’s attributes as a human bring are more important than the judge’s attribute’s as lawyer and/or as judge in explaining judicial behavior. This may possibly be true, and it is relatively consistent with a Legal Realist understanding of judges and judging, but there remains a need for research directed specifically to the question whether judges by virtue of legal training, self-selection to judging, or judicial experience think and reason and make decisions differently from lay people…

The review paper Disrupting Street-Level Drug Markets (published by U.S. Department of State, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, pdf) finds that programmes that

involve strategic crime-control partnerships with a range of third parties are better than community-wide policing approaches that rely on partnerships to reduce drug and disorder problems across neighborhoods plagued with drug problems. Our review also finds that either type of partnership approach (i.e., geographically focused or community-wide approaches that use partnerships) is likely to be more effective at disrupting drug problems than law enforcement-only approaches (e.g., crackdowns, raids, directed patrols) that target drug hot spots. Unfocused law enforcement-only approaches to dealing with drug problems are a distant last.

Photo credit: ex_libris_gul, Creative Commons License

New issue: Behavioral Sciences & the Law 25(5)


Behavioral Sciences & the Law 25(5), Sept/Oct 2007 is now online and includes a special section on Elder Issues edited by John Petrila. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

Contents include:

  • Short-term involuntary examination of older adults in Florida – Annette Christy, Jennifer Bond, M. Scott Young
  • Elderly homicide in Chicago: a research note – Seena Fazel, Mieko Bond, Gautam Gulati, Ian O’Donnell
  • The relationship between guardian certification requirements and guardian sanctioning: a research issue in elder law and policy – Winsor C. Schmidt, Fevzi Akinci, Sarah A. Wagner
  • A comparative study of laws, rules, codes and other influences on nursing homes’ disaster preparedness in the Gulf Coast states – Lisa M. Brown, Kathryn Hyer, LuMarie Polivka-West
  • Elders in the justice system: how the system treats elders in trials, during imprisonment, and on death row – L. Beth Gaydon, Monica K. Miller
  • Elder research: filling an important gap in psychology and law – Eve M. Brank
  • Levels of psychopathy and its correlates: a study of incarcerated youths in three states – Richard Dembo, Nancy Jainchill, Charles Turner, Chunki Fong, Sarah Farkas, Kristina Childs
  • Predictive validity of the Dutch PCL:YV for institutional disruptive behavior: findings from two samples of male adolescents in a juvenile justice treatment institution – Jacqueline Das, Corine de Ruiter, Henny Lodewijks, Theo Doreleijers

Online resources on capital punishment

The Death Penalty Information Center recently got in touch to tell us about their free, Internet-based, university-level curriculum on the death penalty. They describe it like this:

Capital Punishment in Context contains two teaching cases of individuals who were sentenced to death in the United States, Gary Graham and Juan Raul Garza, that are vehicles for engaging the larger issues surrounding capital punishment. The curriculum provides a detailed narrative account of each individual’s legal case, including resources such as the original reports from the homicide investigation, affidavits, and transcripts of testimony from witnesses. Capital Punishment in Context also incorporates detailed teaching notes, sample syllabi, and a variety of supplementary materials to support instructors. We’re continually working on the curriculum to further expand it and add even more great resources.

More here.

The DPIC describes itself as “a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment”. The Intute entry for DPIC says it: “leans heavily towards an abolitionist position on capital punishment, concentrating its attention mainly on the USA, although there is a section in its Information Topics page called ‘International Perspective’. The subjects covered in Information Topics are very impressive both in their range and in their … scholarly treatment.”

New issue: Criminal Justice Studies 20(3)


The September 2007 issue of Criminal Justice Studies 20(3) is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

Contents include:

  • Who Let the Dogs Out? Drug Dogs in Court – Jennifer Ashley; Simon Billinge; Craig Hemmens
  • Female Suicide Bombers: Israeli Newspaper Reporting and the Public Construction of Social Reality – Revital Sela-Shayovitz
  • Examining Criminology Majors’ and Non-Majors’ Attitudes Toward Inmate Programs, Services, and Amenities – Christopher Hensley; Mary Koscheski; Richard Tewksbury
  • Desistance from Serious and Not So Serious Crime: A Comparison of Psychosocial Risk Factors – Elaine Gunnison; Paul Mazerolle
  • Is Vigilantism on Your Mind? An Exploratory Study of Nuance and Contradiction in Student Death Penalty Opinion – Angela M. Schadt; Matt DeLisi
  • Delinquency, Deviance, and Tolerance in a Slum in India: A Quantitative Model – M. Z. Khan; N. Prabha Unnithan; Archana Dassi
  • Minority Women in Policing in Texas: An Attitudinal Analysis – Alejandro del Carmen; Helen Taylor Greene; Denise D. Nation; Gbolahan Solomon Osho
  • Community Partners: ‘Doing Doors’ as a Community Crime Prevention Strategy – Mary Ann Farkas; Richard S. Jones

New issue: Behavioral Sciences & the Law


The July / August 2007 issue of Behavioral Sciences & the Law 25(4) is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

Contents include:

  • The function of punishment in the civil commitment of sexually violent predators – Kevin M. Carlsmith, John Monahan, Alison Evans
  • Constructing insanity: jurors’ prototypes, attitudes, and legal decision-making – Jennifer Eno Louden, Jennifer L Skeem
  • Facets of psychopathy, Axis II traits, and behavioral dysregulation among jail detainees – Richard Rogers, Mandy J. Jordan, Kimberly S. Harrison
  • Improving forensic tribunal decisions: the role of the clinician – Shari A. McKee, Grant T. Harris, Marnie E. Rice
  • Determining dangerousness in sexually violent predator evaluations: cognitive-experiential self-theory and juror judgments of expert testimony – Joel D. Lieberman, Daniel A. Krauss, Mariel Kyger, Maribeth Lehoux
  • An examination of behavioral consistency using individual behaviors or groups of behaviors in serial homicide – Alicia L. Bateman, C. Gabrielle Salfati
  • Can defendants with mental retardation successfully fake their performance on a test of competence to stand trial? – Caroline Everington, Heidi Notario-Smull, Mel L. Horton
  • The role of death qualification and need for cognition in venirepersons’ evaluations of expert scientific testimony in capital trials – Brooke Butler, Gary Moran
  • Plea bargaining recommendations by criminal defense attorneys: evidence strength, potential sentence, and defendant preference – Greg M. Kramer, Melinda Wolbransky, Kirk Heilbrun
  • Megan’s law and its impact on community re-entry for sex offenders – Jill S. Levenson, David A. D’Amora, Andrea L. Hern
  • Criminality and continued DUI offense: criminal typologies and recidivism among repeat offenders – Richard A. LaBrie, Rachel C. Kidman, Mark Albanese, Allyson J. Peller, Howard J. Shaffer

New research on race and the death penalty


Blacks who kill whites are most likely to be executed, according to new research highlighted in a press release from Ohio State University (31 July).

Blacks convicted of killing whites are not only more likely than other killers to receive a death sentence – they are also more likely to actually be executed, a new study suggests. But the findings showed that African Americans on death row for killing nonwhites are less likely to be executed than other condemned prisoners.

“Examining who survives on death row is important because less than 10 percent of those given the death sentence ever get executed,” said David Jacobs, co-author of the study and professor of sociology at Ohio State University. “The disparity in execution rates based on the race of victims suggests our justice system places greater value on white lives, even after sentences are handed down.”

This apparently is the first study to examine whether the race of murder victims affects the probability that a convicted killer gets the ultimate punishment, Jacobs said.

The research is discussed further in an interview with Jacobs in Newsweek last month (hat tip: The Situationist Blog)



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.

Photo credit: Idysw357, Creative Commons License

Quick links


Quick links from around the web and blogosphere:

Reports from a review of the Virginia Tech massacre have been published (download via Docuticker) prompting much commentary, including this detailed post over at World of Psychology, where John Grohol discusses the report (pdf) detailing mass murderer Seung Hui Cho’s mental health history.

Providentia draws our attention to a study presented at the recent APA convention which “indicated that sexual assault on women with physical disabilities tended to be more coercive and more physically severe than assaults on women with other types of problems”.

GNIF Brain Blogger discusses research on the implications of war on mental health:

A recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released articles dedicated to the study of conflict, human rights, and international mental health consequences. Some of the most striking papers dealt specifically with the psychological effects of war as well as the implications exposure to violent war crimes have on efforts towards peace building.

Via Karin Franklin, link to a detailed discussion of the efficacy of sex offender treatment over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Over at The Situationist Blog, consideration of several forensically-relevant issues over the last few weeks, including ongoing discussion of Philip Zimbardo’s latest book The Lucifer Effect here and here, and in a post in which Zimbardo replies to his critics in person. Other recent posts include a commentary on judicial independence and a spotlight on research on race and the death penalty.

Peter Tillers draws our attention to a new paper up at SSRN on The Theater of the Courtroom.

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 30 is up at Abyss2Hope.

Photo credit: bigeoino, Creative Commons License

New issue: Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 13(2)


Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 13(2) , May 2007, is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

Contents include:

  • Prospects for remediating juveniles’ adjudicative incompetence – Jodi L. Viljoen & Thomas Grisso
  • Brain imaging, culpability and the juvenile death penalty – Jay D. Aronson
  • Disentangling the psychology and law of instrumental and reactive subtypes of aggression – Reid Griffith Fontaine

[Steven K. Ericson has a lengthy commentary on Aronson’s article over at Crime and Consequences, arguing that this is “just one more one-sided, uncritical, biased view of neuroscience and the law”]

New issue: Crime and Delinquency 53(3)


The July 2007 issue of Crime and Delinquency 53(3) is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

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Contents include:

  • Restorative Justice at Work: Examining the Impact of Restorative Justice Resolutions on Juvenile Recidivism – Nancy Rodriguez
  • Perceptions of Punishment: How Registered Sex Offenders View Registries – Richard Tewksbury and Matthew B. Lees
  • At-Risk Girls and Delinquency: Career Pathways – Carla P. Davis
  • Wrongful Conviction: Perceptions of Criminal Justice Professionals Regarding the Frequency of Wrongful Conviction and the Extent of System Errors – Robert J. Ramsey and James Frank
  • Factors of Addiction: New Jersey Correctional Population – James P. Wojtowicz, Tongyin Liu, and G. Wayne Hedgpeth
  • Improving Comprehension of Capital Sentencing Instructions: Debunking Juror Misconceptions – Charles W. Otto, Brandon K. Applegate, and Robin King Davis