Monday, August 5, 2019

Adler on Racial Dispartities in Criminal Punishment in New Orleans, 1920-1945

Just out online from the American Journal of Legal History: “‘To Stay the Murderer's Hand and the Rapist's Passions, and for the Safety and Security of Civil Society’: The Emergence of Racial Disparities in Capital Punishment in Jim Crow New Orleans,” by Jeffrey S Adler, University of Florida:
This essay examines capital punishment in New Orleans between 1920 and 1945. Building on a quantitative analysis of case-level data culled from police, court, and prison records, it explores the emergence of racial disparities in death-penalty sentencing and charts the increasing use of capital punishment as a mechanism of racial control. The paper focuses on four surprising and counter-intuitive patterns in the application of the death penalty. First, shifts in the use of capital punishment during this era bore no connection to patterns of violent crime. Second, changes in death-penalty sentencing were only loosely related to overall trends in homicide conviction. Third, and most surprising, Orleans Parish jurors, particularly during the 1920s, sent white killers to the gallows at a higher rate than African American killers. And fourth, the analysis of case-level records reveals dramatic shifts in death-penalty sentencing during the 1930s, particularly the development of a pronounced racial disparity in the application of capital punishment. Prosecutors also exploited the threat of capital charges to secure guilty pleas from African American suspects, and thus changes in death-penalty sentencing contributed to racial disparities in incarceration. In short, this micro-analysis helps to explain when and why the death penalty became a core component of Jim Crow criminal justice.
--Dan Ernst

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