US executions are nearing an all-time low since capital punishment was reinstated nearly 20 years ago. In 2013, 80 people were sentenced to death and 39 were executed. In contrast, 315 people were sentenced to death in 1996. In 1999, a total of 98 inmates were executed in the United States.
The downward trend in US executions is attributed to several factors. DNA testing has exonerated a startling number of death row inmates. Many others were proven innocent following their execution.
Richard Dieter, director of The Death Penalty Information Center, said the possibility of wrongful conviction and execution has made judges and juries more hesitant to impose the death penalty.
The statistics also prompted 18 states to abolish capital punishment. As reported by MSN News, Maryland recently became the sixth state to abolish the death penalty in the last six years.
Supporters of the death penalty believe capital punishment is more cost-effective and more likely to deter crime. However, the theories have no basis in fact.
In 2007, New Jersey became the first state to abolish the death penalty since the 1976 reinstatement. Former Governor Jon Corzine made the decision, in part, to save money. The state was spending an average of $4 million per inmate on death row.
The cost of keeping an inmate on death row has become a burden for many states. NBC News reports that California has the nation’s largest number of inmates on death row. Each death row inmate costs the state $90,000 more than a prisoner in the general population. That adds up to more than $63 million every year.
The National Academy of Sciences recently explored whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent of crime. As reported by the Denver Post, research revealed “death penalty states currently have 35 percent more murders per capita than those who have abolished it.”
Professor Michael Radelet, with the University of Colorado at Boulder, said there are several problems with the assumption that capital punishment deters crime. Most importantly, it is impossible to know what a killer is thinking before or during a murder. Therefore, it cannot be determined whether a defendant considered the penalty before or during the commission of the crime.
Although violent crime has declined nationwide, Radelet said the statistics can be attributed to a number of factors and “pinning the death penalty’s share of that is fruitless.”
As US executions continue to decline, so does the number of inmates on death row. Earlier this year there were 3,108 inmates on death row compared to 3,670 in 2007.
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