"Courts and scholars have long concluded that [rehabilitation] does not [apply in the capital context] — that death is completely irrelevant to rehabilitation. Yet, historically, the death penalty in this country has been imposed in large part to induce the rehabilitation of offenders’ characters. Additionally, there are tales of the worst offenders transforming their characters when they are facing death, and several legal doctrines are based on the idea that death spurs rehabilitation.
and scholars’ conclusion that death is irrelevant to rehabilitation likely stems
from changes in our understanding of rehabilitation. While it was once
understood as referring to an offender’s character transformation, references to
rehabilitation now often focus on offenders’ direct impacts on society. This has
the effect, though, of distracting from the humanness of the worst offenders and
consequently not providing them with true opportunities to transform their
characters — a denial which challenges the Eighth Amendment’s focus on
respecting the human dignity of the condemned."
Meghan J. Ryan, Abstract to "Death and rehabilitation" (August 11, 2012). SMU Dedman School of Law Legal
Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2128175. Hat tip: Marc DeGirolami at Mirror of justice. I have not read the paper itself.