Living on Ohio’s Death Row is about people who live in unusual and extreme circumstances. The research was empirical in nature and dependent on the role of the investigator as participant observer. Extensive field notes recorded all events, interviews and all contact with the inmates. All possible additional details were noted, including: experiences, emotional responses, sensory observations, evaluations and personal involvement between and with eight inmates confined to Ohio's Death Row.
Despite long-running public controversy over capital punishment in America, there is a notable lack of research on Death Row populations. The majority of past academic research was quantitative; there was only one other qualitative study. This project was launched as a qualitative study to investigate aspects of DR confinement that were not well-represented in previous research efforts.
Death Row inmates go through much more than just execution: the process of capital punishment involves trial, sentence, confinement and appeals. The entire process – from crime to execution – often takes more than 20 years to complete. Additional information from research of the lives of men confined to Death Row will be beneficial to many: members of state and federal legislatures will be able to make more informed assessments about all aspects of capital punishment; judicial systems can produce more knowledgeable rulings, and; administrators in corrections can formulate better planning and implementation of policy, security and facility design.
In America, public opinion has a definite impact on the shaping of law. In 2002 the Federal Supreme Court announced a decision on the case Atkins vs. Virginia. The ruling ended any execution of persons with a mental disability, which signaled a major reversal in the laws related to capital punishment.
Justice Sandra Day O'Conner wrote the majority opinion, which explained the deciding factor. According to the Court, a "public consensus" had emerged that demonstrated "evolving standards against executing people with mental retardation."
In the Atkins ruling the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that public opinion is important and can have a major impact on their decisions. The information in Living and similar research can and should be presented to the general public in a format they can readily comprehend. Well informed citizens can and will make objective evaluations of important social issues, including the entire process of trials, sentences, confinement, appeals and executions as related to capital murder.