Are Southern death-row inmates more polite?

Honor on Death Row: Apology, Remorse, and the Culture of Honor in the U.S. South

From SAGE Open

Southern states are known to uphold a culture of honor and adhere to traditional politeness norms, but does this hold true for death-row convicts? This article finds that Southern death-row offenders are more likely to apologize for crimes in their final statements than offenders from other regions of the U.S.

The author analyzed executed prisoners’ final statements from across the U.S. between January 2000 and December 2011. Of the 299 Southerners and 60 non-Southerners studied, offenders were two times more likely to apologize in their final statements if they were from a southern state.  The comparison of Southerners and non-Southerners showed that although Southerners did apologize more, there were no differences in degree of remorse for the two groups. While the data suggest that saying “sorry” and expressing remorse may be quite different, Eaton believes that apologies can still be helpful for victims of the convicts’ crimes.

“If Southern victims (or their families) adhere to the same politeness norms or social scripts as offenders, it may be that an apology from an offender, regardless of whether it is sincere, may make victims’ families feel better.”


The Southern United States is described as having a culture of honor, an argument that has been used to explain higher crime rates in the Southern United States than in the rest of the country. This research explored whether the combination of honor-related violence and traditional southern politeness norms is related to regional differences in the degree of remorse expressed by those who have committed violent crimes. It was proposed that different social norms regarding politeness and apologies in the Southern United States would be reflected in the narratives provided by offenders. The data came from the final statements that offenders on death row made before they were executed. Results showed that, compared with offenders executed in the non-Southern United States, offenders executed in the South more often apologized for their crimes in their final statements, but they were not necessarily more remorseful.


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