Eduardo Mendieta suggests that Albert Camus’s ‘Reflections on the Guillotine’ is worth another look. Of course the French debate happened some time ago, but not that long ago – one of the things Foucault did when involved with the Groupe d’information sur les prisons was campaign against the death penalty. See his piece ‘Pompidou’s two deaths’, for example, where he closes with the statement that “We acccuse the prisons of murder”.
Camus’s piece isn’t available online, as far as I can tell, and I don’t have the collection it’s in. But Eduardo gave me this powerful quote:
The death penalty, which really neither provides an example nor assures distributive justice, simply usurps an exorbitant privilege by claiming to punish an always relative culpability by a definitive and irreparable punishment.