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Human Rights & Reconciliation Death Penalty

The Death Penalty Has No Place in Society

United States | 2004 - 2015

The death penalty should be abolished because it violates basic human rights. More so, it relies on a system fraught with error, discriminates based on race and socio-economic status, takes up disproportionate time and resources in the courts, and impedes meaningful reform of the criminal justice system.

Over 11 years, Atlantic provided $60 million to groups working to abolish the death penalty in the United States. During this time, executions declined 52 percent and, courts handed down 61 percent fewer death sentences. In addition, the number of states performing executions was cut in half. The growing national consensus against the death penalty offers hope that the Supreme Court will ban executions before long.

Watch: Human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America's justice system, including in the death penalty and a massive imbalance along racial lines.

What We Learned From This Work

  1. We were surprised by the quick pace of progress on this issue. We believe the effort gained momentum due to a combination of quick wins, strategic communications and steadfast commitment to incremental progress.

  2. A national advocacy campaign is more likely to succeed when it has a strategy run by an independent leadership team invested with full decision making authority, accountability mechanisms and influence over funding priorities.

  3. Grants have more impact when donors coordinate with each other to align, pool and commit their funding in support of strategic priorities.

Getting Closer to Zero

A Landmark Win

Atlantic grantees played a pivotal role in advancing arguments that helped convince the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 to strike down the juvenile death penalty.

More States Say No More

Between 2007 – 2014, six states ended the death penalty. In several more, governors put executions on hold or they have been halted awaiting the outcome of litigation challenging the use of lethal injection.

Better Use for the Money

After repealing its death penalty in 2011, Illinois redirected $18 million from its death penalty budget to services for victims and law enforcement.

Summaries of Case Studies, Evaluations & Reports

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