How Social Science Stopped the Death Penalty

The Politics of Life & Death: Lessons from Washington State
11:45 am
12:45 pm
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Katherine Beckett, PhD
Frank S. Miyamoto Professor of Sociology, University of Washington (Seattle)
Lecture Series
Department of Sociomedical Sciences
Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health
Open to the Columbia Community
The Washington State Supreme Court recently invalidated the state's death penalty statute based on evidence, submitted by Drs. Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans, that the death penalty was administered in a racially biased and arbitrary manner. In this talk, Katherine Beckett will reflect on the litigation that resulted in this ruling and its impact on criminal justice reform efforts, especially efforts to reduce the number of people serving life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences.

Some criminal justice reform advocates have argued that the abolition of the death penalty is a priority because the nature of the most severe penalty inevitably influences the nature of the sanctions imposed in less serious cases. From this perspective, capital punishment's existence creates the illusion that all other penalties, including life-without-parole, are generous and benign acts of mercy. By contrast, others contend that the abolition of the death penalty justifies the argument that life-without-parole sentences are the only viable means of providing victims of serious violence with closure and certainty. These and other perspectives on the politics of life and death will be examined in light of recent legislative and judicial developments in Washington State.


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