Society’s Influence on Capital Punishment

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This paper shows the correlation between society and capital punishment. Many people examine the effect society has on capital punishment and vice versa (French, 1987; Haines, 1992). They show that depending on the type of society has a direct impact on the type and frequency of capital punishment. It can also impact who is affected the most. Capital punishment also can help shape society. Executions that do not go well can be a driving force for change. Society is currently changing in the United States and along with it the way people view capital punishment is changing too.

Society’s Influence

Capital punishment is a controversial issue that has continually divided America. Support for and against has shifted back and forth over time as society has changed. Currently, society has shifted in opposing capital punishment like it did in the 1960s. There are many articles on how society has helped shape the laws concerning capital punishment. An article by Laurence French and one by Herb Haines will help show how. They will show how there are problems with capital punishment and how society had a part in creating the problems or solving them.

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A Sociological View

Boundry Maintenance and Capital Punishment: A Sociological View by Laurence French looks at how society changed the view of capital punishment. Members of society create organizations that enforce capital punishment even though those same members may be the ones to suffer from it. However, some people are more susceptible to capital punishment than others depending on the society. French (1987) says that lower classes or groups are more likely to be put to death than higher classes of the same society. The post-Civil War south in America shows a disparity in those that face capital punishment. Black people in the south have been executed at a higher rate than everywhere else in the United States. Society may be to blame for this because many in the south believed that Black people were a lesser class after the Civil War. “Nonetheless, lower class blacks, a visible reminder of their lost ideal, continue to be targeted for harsh examples of this desperate effort to curtail anomie and avert change in the status quo.” (French, 1987). The United States repealed capital punishment in 1967 and reinstated it in 1976. Since then more executions have happened in the south than the rest of America. For disparity of those executed to stop sentencing must become standardized for all people.

This article supplies ample information and is still relevant to America today. Since it was written in 1987 somethings have changed in the United States since then. Even though some things might have changed it still gives an insight into how society influences capital punishment.

Flawed Execution

Flawed Executions, the Anti-Death Penalty Movement, and the Politics of Capital Punishment by Herb Haines looks at how problems with executions change how society views it. When there is a problem with the execution the public and society takes notice and dislikes it. The public seems to be okay with executions when they think that it was done humanely and according to plan. Sometimes things do not go right with the execution though. Executions in the middle ages were a public attraction and were not liked if the executioner did a poor job. When using the electric chair, the execution could go bad if the wires were faulty or something else did not work right. Multiple times people in the electric chair did not die instantly and sometimes caught fire. Gassings have been known to not kill right away and leave their victims gasping for air slowly dying. During injections, the lines can leak, or the mixture of chemicals does not react right. These things make society shift away from capital punishment. Another thing society does not like to see is the improper behavior of the prison staff, criminal or the public viewing the execution. (Haines, 1992) Wrongful convictions can sometimes lead to innocent people being put to death. This led to a social movement to stop capital punishment. They used the flaws that can happen in executions to show why they should be stopped. “The fact that the press has apparently made more of wrongful convictions than of the other three types of flawed executions discussed suggests it may have the greatest impact on the future of capital punishment in the United States.” (Haines, 1992)

This article shows how capital punishment can influence the way society views it. The article gave multiple examples of executions that did not go right in the United States over the years. Those examples help explain why society has changed its view on capital punishment.


I agree with French that society has an impact on how often capital punishment is used and which people are subject to it more. I think it is more to do with the economic level now days instead of race like it did shortly after the Civil War. I also agree with Haines that the way capital punishment is executed impacts the way society views it. The way that one effects the other it makes sense that there is a pattern of more and less support over the years. I think with help from the media to bring a change like Haines mentioned capital punishment will continue to decline over the years.


  1. French, L. (1987). Boundary maintenance and capital punishment: A sociological perspective. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 5(4), 423-432.
  2. Haines, H. (1992). Flawed Executions, the Anti-Death Penalty Movement, and the Politics of Capital Punishment. Social Problems, 39(2), 125-138.
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Society’s Influence on Capital Punishment. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
“Society’s Influence on Capital Punishment.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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