At its peak in 1999, 460 people were living with a death sentence in Texas, says the Texas Tribune. Now there are 260. The decline doesn’t result from a rise in executions. In 2000, an all-time high of 40 inmates were executed, compared with 10 last year. So far this year, nine inmates have been executed. The main reason is a drop in new death sentences. In 1999, 48 people were sentenced to Texas death row. In 2008, that number was nine and has stayed in that range ever since. This year, there have been no new death sentences so far, says the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Kathryn Kase of the Texas Defender Service, a nonprofit organization of death penalty attorneys, said that zero is significant. “This is the longest we've gone in a calendar year in Texas without a new death sentence,” Kase said. “Before this year, the longest that we've gone is through the first quarter.”
Several factors could be contributing to the falling number of death sentences, from a decline in support for the death penalty to shortages of the lethal drugs used in executions. Experts point to a 2005 law that offered Texas prosecutors the option to pursue life-without-parole sentences against capital murder defendants. Previously, capital murder offenders who did not receive the death penalty were eligible for parole after 40 years. Since that law was enacted, the number of life-without-parole sentences has increased nearly every year. Between 2007 and 2014, the number of life-without-parole sentences jumped from 37 to 96.