U.S. Death Penalty Numbers are the Lowest in Decades

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Photo by League of Women Voters via Flickr

This year, 30 people were sentenced to death in the U.S., and 20 people were executed. Those numbers are the lowest in decades, says the Death Penalty Information Center, which advocates against capital punishment, NPR reports. The 2016 numbers fit with a multi-decade trend. Death sentences and executions have been declining steadily since the mid-1990s. This year generated seemingly contradictory information about how the public views capital punishment. Even as jurors have increasingly voted for life in prison instead of execution, voters in three states rejected propositions that would have eliminated the death penalty.

In California, Nebraska, and Oklahoma — states with widely varying electorates – people voted by large margins to retain the death penalty. Another trend is clearer than ever: for years, just a handful of states have accounted for most of the death sentences in America. In 2015 and 2016, Texas, Georgia and Missouri carried out 85 percent of executions. The geographical isolation of capital punishment goes down to the county level. This year, just 27 of the more than 3,000 U.S. counties were responsible for every death sentence this year. Even in states that impose the most death sentences, the overall trend away from capital punishment holds true. “Texas juries imposed only four new death sentences in 2016, and juries in Georgia and Missouri did not impose any [new death sentences] in 2015 or 2016,” the report notes. Overall, the number of people on death row – who are waiting to be executed after being sentenced to die – decreased this year, because the number of prisoners either dying in custody or having their sentences reversed outpaced the number of new death sentences.


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