Kaneesha R. Johnson

Postdoctoral Scholar , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapter Member: Boston SSN

Connect with Kaneesha

About Kaneesha

My research lies at the intersection of public policy, the criminal legal system, and historical institutionalism within the field of American politics. My book project, which won the Harvard Department of Government Robert Noxon Toppan prize for the best dissertation upon a subject of political science, focuses on the ways in which the state designs systems of punishment as a form of social control and how people who are subjected to those forms of control respond at the local level.


America's Failed Efforts to Reform the Death Penalty

    Frank R. Baumgartner ,
  • Marty A. Davidson
  • Arvind Krishnamurthy

In the News

Opinion: "Arkansas Plans to Execute 7 Men in 11 Days. They're Likely to Botch One," Kaneesha R. Johnson (with Frank R. Baumgartner), Washington Post, April 14, 2017.
Opinion: "Americans are Turning against the Death Penalty. Are Politicians Far behind?," Kaneesha R. Johnson (with Frank R. Baumgartner and Emily Williams), Washington Post, December 7, 2015.


"Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of Death Penalty" (with Frank R. Baumgartner, Marty A. Davidson, Arvind Krishnamurthy, and Colin Wilson) (Oxford University Press, 2018).

 Examines the record established through 40 years of experience with the “new and improved” death penalty since, in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated all existing death penalty laws in its landmark Furman v. Georgia decision. Asks if the modern system has worked as intended, and have the states successfully targeted only a narrow class of particularly heinous crimes and the most deserving criminals for the ultimate punishment, or do various elements of caprice, bias, and arbitrariness continue to make the application of the death penalty akin to “being struck by lightning” as the Court noted in Furman?

"Mass Incarceration and U.S. Politics," (with Ariel White), Oxford Bibliographies, 2017.

Overviews recent agenda-setting pieces that describe particular challenges or limitations of political science research on mass incarceration, or that propose new avenues of research. Highlights work on how public opinion, activism, and interest group activity have contributed to mass incarceration. Discusses political outcomes, discussing research about how experiences with incarceration can shape public opinion and political participation, and gives an overview of research on the political effects of felon disenfranchisement laws. 

"The Geographic Distribution of US Executions" (with Arvind Krishnamurthy, Elizabeth J. Wilson, Woody Gram, and Colin P. Wilson). Duke Journal of Law and Constitutional Law and Public Policy 11 (2016): 1-33.

Finds that a main determinant of whether an individual will be executed is not the crime they commit, but the jurisdiction’s experience with executing others. This is not acceptable—legally, morally, or constitutionally.