While 31 U.S. states authorize capital punishment for certain crimes, only 12 have put someone to death in the last five years, according to a Pew Research Report released Aug. 10.
Four days after the report’s publication, Nebraska executed its first death row inmate by lethal injection, bringing the total to 12 states executing someone in the last five years.
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia all executed persons for criminal offenses in the past five years, with two states (Nebraska and Tennessee) doing so in August for the first time since 1997 and 2009, respectively.
Executions have become less common in the other 19 states still allowing for capital punishment. It has been more than five years since nine states, 10 years since four states, and 15 years since six states did so.
The U.S. federal government and military also authorize capital punishment, but neither has executed someone in more than 15 years.
“The last federal execution … took place more than 15 years ago, in March 2003,” the report noted. “While the U.S. military retains its own authority to carry out executions, it hasn’t done so since 1961.”
The five states with the most death row inmates are California, Florida, Texas, Alabama and Pennsylvania.
Only two states – California (29 percent) and Alabama (4 percent) – have had increases in death row inmates from 2000 to 2017.
“The increase reflects the fact that California juries have continued to sentence convicted defendants to death even as executions themselves have been on hold in recent years amid legal and political disputes,” Pew explained. “Just 15 of the 128 California death row inmates who have died since 1978 were executed.”
Double-digit declines have happened in Texas (47 percent) and Pennsylvania (29 percent), with Florida seeing a 6 percent drop.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center’s searchable database, Texas executed 346 persons from 2000 to 2017. By comparison, Florida executed 51 death row inmates and Pennsylvania none.
“Many other death row prisoners have died of other causes. Another 78 were removed from death row between 2000 and 2017 because they were exonerated, whether by acquittal, dropped charges or pardons,” the report stated. “And the number of new defendants sentenced to death has declined sharply, from 223 in 2000 to just 39 last year.”
While the number of death row inmates in California increased 29 percent from 2000-17, the total number of both death row inmates and capital punishment sentences has declined nationwide over the same period.
In early August, Pope Francis announced a revision to the Catholic Catechism, ruling out capital punishment as a legitimate recourse for governments.
The change reads, in part, “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
What impact this shift will have on the policies of the U.S. and other nations still permitting capital punishment remains to be seen.
The full report is available here.