Death Penalty Downward Spiral Continues

Exonerated Gary Drinkard death penalty

Gary Drinkard was on death row in Alabama for 6 years before he was exonerated. © Scott Langley

As we approach the end of another year, the time for annual reports is at hand.  For the death penalty, this means the yearly report from the Death Penalty Information Center, as well as the year-end report from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.   Both reports show that in 2011 the downward trends we have been observing for several years in the United States continued or even accelerated.

Texas carried out its lowest number of executions (13) since 1996.  Nationwide, the 43 executions carried out represented about half the number that were put to death in the year 2000, and U.S. death sentences dropped well below 100 for the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

Death sentences remained historically low in Texas too, with just 8 sentenced to die.  Somewhat disturbingly, however, as death sentences have declined in Texas, racial disparities have become more pronounced: 72% of all those sentenced to death in Texas in the last 5 years (including 6 out of the 8 in 2011) have been people of color.

This years’ abolition in Illinois, moratorium in Oregon, and even the slow, albeit uneven, decline in Texas, all point to a growing repudiation of capital punishment.  The unprecedented scale of the response to Georgia’s execution of Troy Davis (one of Time Magazine’s 2011 People Who Mattered) was not only a product of this trend but a sign that it is likely to intensify in the years to come.

Of the 78 death sentences this year, only one took place in Georgia.

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