Griffith, Athena Renee' (2014-09). A Closer Evaluation of Capital Punishment: Viewing Executions through the Lens of Former Prison Employees. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • This dissertation examined the impact capital punishment has on the prison employees who worked with executions in the State of Texas. Qualitative methodology with an emphasis on critical ethnography was used to collect the data for this study and assist with the analysis. The effects of capital punishment were captured through interviews with retired prison employees who reflected on their past experiences in retrospect. Political and religious orientations, as well as perceptions of racism in U.S. society were used as key variables to identify changes across time. Training, safety and support services provided by the prison were also examined. The dehumanization processes of capital punishment for both the prison inmates and employees were of central concern for this study. Grounded theories were used to assist with the analysis on how the powerful socialization processes were influential to leading the participants in this study to agree to work with executions, despite their own personal beliefs on capital punishment. Erving Goffman's "Dramaturgical Theory" focused on layered settings of the total institutions as related to the death penalty, and the many roles operating within. James Marquart, Sheldon Ekland-Olson, and Johnathon R. Sorenson's "Implicit Theory of Race" assisted with insight to how the participants in this study had come to enforce laws that upheld racism and other forms of social exclusion for the State of Texas. And George Ritzer's "McDondalization Theory" provided assistance in understanding how the irrationality of capital punishment was the result of rational processes involving efficiency, calculability, and predictability. The findings revealed that Protestant religious traditions that espoused pro-death penalty beliefs were used as the chief authority for capital punishment in Texas and only chaplains who subscribed to such orientations were the primary sources of support the prison referred the workers to for coping with any negative effects. Religious and political orientations remained consistent for all participants in this study. Those who held pro-death penalty positions were raised in religious traditions that taught capital punishment is consistent with the Bible, while those who were anti-death penalty were raised in traditions that did not support capital punishment. While the political orientations varied with all participants, all had concluded they would not be bothered if capital punishment were abolished.

publication date

  • September 2014