CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Miao on LWOP in Abolitionist Campaign

Michelle Miao (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Law) has posted Replacing Death with Life? The Rise of LWOP in the Context of Abolitionist Campaign in the United States (Capital University Law Review, Vol. 46, 2017 Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
On the basis of 54 elite interviews with legislators, judges, attorneys and civil society advocates, as well a state-by-state data survey, this paper examines the complex linkage between the two major penal trends in American society during the past decades: a declining use of capital punishment across the United States and a growing population of prisoners serving life without the possibilities of parole (LWOP) sentences. The main contribution of the research is threefold. First, the research proposes to redefine the boundary between life and death in relation to penal discourses regarding the death penalty and LWOP. LWOP is a chronic and latent form of ultimate punishment which strips life of its most valuable existential character. Second, the findings explore the connection between the rise of LWOP and the nation-wide campaign against capital punishment. It explains that the abolition campaign normalized and accentuated LWOP as a symbolic substitute to the death penalty. The research reveals the thorny ethical and moral dilemmas facing anti-death penalty activists at the forefront of the abolitionist movement. Third, the paper demonstrates that the judicial use of LWOP and capital punishment at the state level do not support the claim that a decline in capital punishment is caused by the expansion of LWOP. In sum, LWOP has been employed not merely as a penal punishment for America’s most incorrigible criminal offenders. It has been used as a strategic instrument to reshape American penal politics.

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