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December 23, 2014

First "Hidden Collections" from the National Death Penalty Archives Made Available

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The first two collections processed as part of the Building New Access Tools for the National Death Penalty Archive project are now open and available to researchers. Guides to the Leigh B. Bienen Papers and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Records can now be found on the M.E. Grenander Special Collections and Archives webpage. Visitors may now request to see any part of these collections in the Marcia Brown Reading Room on the third floor of the Science Library.

The ongoing project to process and make available 10 collections from the National Death Penalty Archives is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources as part of its Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program.

The Leigh B. Bienen Papers contain the records of legal scholar Leigh B. Bienen and her efforts to show how the application of capital punishment in New Jersey and Illinois was inconsistent and discriminatory. Bienen was a member of the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate in the 1980s where she directed the Public Defender Homicide Study cited in the New Jersey Supreme Court Decision State v. Marshall. In this case, Robert O. Marshall became the state's first death row inmate to have his death sentence confirmed by New Jersey's highest court since capital punishment was reinstated there in 1982. The study led the court to call for the New Jersey Proportionality Review Project where Bienen, along with other legal scholars, argued that the state's administration of the death penalty had significant bias based on the race of the defendant. The death penalty in New Jersey was abolished in 2007.
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Bienen later lectured at Princeton University and Northwestern University and published extensively on the monetary costs of capital punishment and the outsized role of local prosecutors in sentencing defendants to death. In 2006, she was named to the Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee which influenced the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois in 2011.

For over 35 years the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has been working to educate the public about the arbitrary, discriminatory, and inconsistent use of capital punishment in the United States. The group was founded after the Supreme Court again permitted use of the death penalty in the Gregg v. Georgia decision of 1976. Since then, the NCADP has emerged as the largest national organization exclusively devoted to abolishing the death penalty. The group lobbies against capital punishment through a variety of methods that include organizing protests and increasing public awareness. The NCADP uses a number of non-violent methods to draw attention to, and advance, their campaign at local, state and national levels.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Records contains the group's internal case files, administrative material, and publications. Here researchers can examine efforts like the international Stop Killing Kids Campaign as well as photographs, audio, and video of the NCADP's annual conference and on-the-ground advocacy campaigns.
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The Building New Access Tools for the National Death Penalty Archive project is well under way. In addition to these two collections, the Victor L. Streib Papers and the records of the death penalty abolition group Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation are also nearing completion and will be made available during the Spring 2015 semester. Work has also started on the arrangement and description of the Bill Pelke Papers and the David C. Baldus Papers which document abolition advocacy campaigns and the statistical analysis of capital charging, sentencing, and jury-decision making in six states and in the US military. Overall the project will result in the processing and opening of over 700 cubic feet of unique manuscript materials.