Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Legal Studies

Second Department

Politics and International Relations

Reader 1

Jennifer Groscup

Reader 2

Mar Golub

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Rights Information

© 2024 Natalie M. Gunn


Debates on death penalty policy in the United States have been ongoing since colonization, and understanding of the death penalty’s constitutionality and morality ebb and flow overtime. An analysis of the historical connection between slavery, mob lynchings, and the death penalty reveals capital punishment aims to reinforce the racial subordination of Black Americans. This aim manifests in every aspect of the death penalty process, from charging death, to jury selection, to sentencing. Criminal justice reform has been met with continued calls for tough-on-crime policies. This thesis seeks to demonstrate the death penalty and American society are so ingrained in racism that racial bias arguments for abolition will continue to fail and finds that alternative approaches, including undermining the claims of deterrence, incapacitation, and retribution, and focusing on cost and morality, could be more effective. Capital trials, the housing of death row prisoners, high execution costs, and the potential for wrongful conviction lawsuits all contribute to the death penalty’s exorbitant cost. At least 195 death row prisoners have been exonerated since 1973, but it is undeniable that there are hundreds of other innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted and executed since then – many of whom are Black. State-sponsored killing conveys to Americans that some lives are worth taking. This dangerous message devalues human life and reinforces Americans’ stereotypes on Black criminality. Ultimately, this thesis argues disseminating information on the ineffectiveness, the exorbitant cost, and the immorality of capital punishment could successfully lead to abolition.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.