Wednesday, December 16, 2020

State executions fall to lowest level in 37 years

In a year unlike any other that featured the combination of court shutdowns from the worst pandemic in more than a century, a national reawakening on racial justice issues, and historically aberrant behavior by the federal government, executions and death sentences in the United States fell to historic lows, according to a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center. 

The deep decline in death sentences and state executions was unquestionably a by-product of the pandemic, but even before the pandemic struck, the nation was on pace for the sixth straight year of near-record low sentences and executions. 

Colorado became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty and two states – Louisiana and Utah – reached ten years with no executions. New reform prosecutors who pledged never to use the death penalty or to seek it only sparingly were elected in counties across the country comprising more than 12% of the nation’s death row. The resumption of federal executions after 17 years with an historically unprecedented six-month execution spree marked the federal government as an outlier in 2020, as for the first time in the nation’s history, the federal government carried out more civilian executions than all of the states of the Union combined.

“At the end of the year, more states and counties had moved to end or reduce death-penalty usage, fewer new death sentences were imposed than in any prior year since capital punishment resumed in the U.S. in 1970s, and states carried out fewer executions than at any time in the past 37 years,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC’s executive director and the lead author of “The Death Penalty in 2020: Year End Report.” “What was happening in the rest of the country showed that the administration’s policies were not just out of step with the historical practices of previous presidents, they were also completely out of step with today’s state practices.” 

Seventeen people were executed in 2020, down from 22 in 2019. Just five states – Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas – performed executions this year and only one, Texas, conducted more than one. The total number of executions was the lowest since 1991 and the lowest number of executions performed at the state level since 1983. 

Read “The Death Penalty in 2020: Year End Report” at  

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