Capital punishment rates are at their lowest levels since the 1970s. Even states that are very strong supporters of the death penalty, such as Texas, Missouri and Georgia have seen their capital punishment rates plummet over the years.
Most notably, the number of new death sentences that were handed out this year is the lowest in at least 40 years. This largely shows that juries are much more reluctant to sentence a guilty individual to death. A total of only 49 new death sentences were issued this year, and only 14 states issued such sentences. In 1996, 315 death sentences were handed out.
Additionally, only 28 executions took place in 2015, and only six states were responsible for the executions. This is much lower than the peak number in 1999, when 98 executions were performed across the country. This year, Texas executed the most people with 13 executions. Missouri had six, and Georgia had five.
Although Texas executed the most individuals, the practice is still dropping off in the Lone Star State. This year, the state only sentenced three individuals to death. In 1999, Texas put 48 people on death row.
This change can most notably be seen in Harris County, which covers the city of Houston. Over the years, 294 death sentences have been handed out by Harris County, the most in the country. This year, the county issued zero death sentences.
Executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center Robert Dunham said, “The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare and increasingly isolated in the US. These are not just annual blips in statistics, but reflect a broad change in attitudes.”
The decline of the death penalty has just as much to do with economic issues as it does moral issues. The cost of putting a single prisoner to death is estimated to be about $3 million. Additionally, problems with acquiring lethal injection drugs and racial bias in sentencing have also caused the death penalty to fall out of favor. There is also the fact that the death penalty has become increasingly uncommon throughout the developed world.
Many people also say that the risk of sentencing an innocent person to death would make them strongly concerned about handing out a sentence of capital punishment. A total of six death row inmates had their sentences exonerated this year. A total of 156 capital punishment inmates have been freed from their death sentences since 1973.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of the United States has been largely reluctant to get involved in the capital punishment debate. Earlier this year in June, the nine justices of SCOTUS rejected a challenge to the new lethal injection method of Oklahoma. The vote had a 5-4 split.
The United States isn’t alone in participating in capital punishment. Other countries that still partake in the practice include Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.