There are nearly one and a half million people locked behind bars in the United States. This is a threefold increase since 1980 and the numbers are rising by more than 8 per cent a year. Over 2,700 prisoners were under sentence of death in thirty–six states at the end of 1993. In that year thirty–eight people were executed, bringing to 226 the total number of prisoners executed since 1977. Four of the people executed were juvenile offenders aged seventeen at the time of their crimes. Racial discrimination is a major concern since half of those executed were black or of Latin American origin and 88 per cent had been convicted of the murder of white victims. The raw statistics reveal an unjust and discriminatory system which means that some people convicted of a homicide will receive the death penalty while others who commit identical or worse crimes will not.
Tony Parker’s book contributes as much to raising questions about the inequity of the use of capital punishment in the United States as it does to answering questions as to why particular individuals took a life and ended up serving long prison sentences. He tells us that sentencing in the