The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

deserves praise for allowing "social outcasts" to recount their lives and percep-
tions in their own words.
University of Texas at Austzn PAUL M. LucKo
The Rope, the Chair, and the Needle. By James Marquart, Sheldon Ekland-Olson,
and Jonathan Sorensen. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. Pp.
xii+275. Preface, appendix, notes, references, court cases, index. ISBN o-
29275-158-3. $24.95.)
In any discussion of modern penology, questions about the application of the
death penalty generate considerable controversy. Debates as to whether the ex-
treme punishment should be used at all are accompanied by allegations that it is
unfairly applied, as a rule, and that those persons with money and influence are
significantly less likely to be put to death than are those who are unable to avail
themselves of expensive legal defenses. The authors of this book, all social scien-
tists, examine the application of the death penalty in Texas, attempting to pre-
sent an account that "is neither an indictment of, nor a rallying point for, capital
punishment" (p. xii).
Relying heavily on prison system records, legal treatises, evolving penal codes,
and secondary literature focusing on the legal aspects of the death penalty, the
authors tell us much about the individuals sentenced to death in Texas during
the years 1923-1990, the kinds of crimes of which they were convicted, and the
likelihood that the punishment assessed against them would be carried out, giv-
en factors such as race, educational level, wealth, and so forth. The authors also
describe life on death row, reveal the hour-by-hour activities of inmates on the
last day of their lives, and offer biographical sketches of many of those whom the
state has condemned to death. This information, particularly the statistically
based material, is the best and most extensive treatment we have on the subject
and will prove very useful to any future researchers working in this area.
The book's principal problem lies in the authors' failure to place their find-
ings in the appropriate historical context. On those few occasions when they do
attempt to delve into the history of the period, they often make mistakes of ei-
ther a factual or interpretive nature. For example, the Board of Public Labor, an
early prisoner-leasing agency, was not established until mid-November 1866 and
did not begin awarding contracts until early February 1867, considerably later
than "two months following [the] ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment,"
which was approved by the required number of states on December 18, 1865 (p.
2). The timing of the state's commitment to leasing becomes important since
the authors use it as an indication of the hasty determination of Texans to
reestablish a form of slavery despite its newly imposed unconstitutionality. In re-
ality, desperate overcrowding coupled with a legislative unwillingness to appro-
priate sufficient funds to operate the prison figured much more prominently in
the decision to begin hiring state prisoners out to private individuals. Additional-
ly, and contrary to the authors' assertions, the prisoners were not segregated in
such a way that blacks labored in the outside camps while whites and Hispanics

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed December 29, 2014.