War and capital punishment

  • Schneider V
  • Ortiz Smykla J
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Abstract

This article examines the relationship between war and capital punishment. Based on Executions in the United States, 1608-1987: The Espy File (Espy and Smykla, 1987), a new, comprehensive computer-readable data collection on the history of capital punishment, changes in execution rates were measured across World Wars I and II and the Korean War with a before-, during-, and after- design. After review of several theoretical reasons to suspect that executions might continue at the same level or even increase during and after war periods compared with prewar periods, it was found that the number of executions dropped during and after World Wars I and II and the Korean War compared to prewar periods of equal length. Explanations related to changes in the number of homicides or in public opinion are discounted. It is suggested that the changes are, in part, functions of the influence of women and the elderly during large-scale mobilization and of war-time parole, which required military service in lieu of incarceration and execution. © 1990.

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Authors

  • Victoria Schneider

  • John Ortiz Smykla

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