The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that allows for capital punishment sentences to be handed down. Although the amount of executions has been dramatically reduced from late high’s in the 1990s, the US is still a top 5 country in the world for executing prisoners that are convicted of certain crimes.
There are over 3,000 inmates that are on death row right now in the prison systems of the United States.
Death Row Facts
Many people see Texas as the leader of capital punishment, but they aren’t even in second place when it comes to the amount of inmates on death row. That distinction goes to the state of California, which has over 700 inmates convicted and sentenced to capital punishment. Life on death row isn’t easy. Many inmates are locked up for 22-23 hours per day, allowed 1 hour of locked gate outdoor recreation, and that is it. It’s the epitome of doing time.
- By a slim majority, whites are the most dominant racial demographic that has been sentenced to death row, making up 43% of total inmates.
- African-Americans are a close second, accounting for 42% of inmates that are on death row.
- The percentage of African-Americans on death row is 2.5x greater than their population demographic in the United States.
- The first Congress of the United States authorized the federal death penalty on June 25, 1790. Since then, there have been 343 federal executions, two of which were women.
- Only 3 people have been executed by the federal government since the death penalty was restored in 1988.
- Just 6 of the 94 federal judicial districts account for 33% of death authorizations.
- More than 50% of all death authorizations come from just 14 federal districts.
- When juries are given the opportunity to impose a life sentence or sentence someone to death row, they are 2x more likely to send someone to life imprisonment.
- Women account for about 2% of the death row population at any given time.
Why are African-Americans sentenced to death row more often than any other racial demographic? Part of the reason may be because of the levels of racial violence that occurs within the community. A majority of the violent crime that occurs in the United States is black-on-black crime. Yet there is also a curious fact about the US justice system: white people who murder black people are less likely to get death row than black people who kill white people. Is this a holdover from the days of racial inequality? The fact is that we’re only 5 decades removed from the Civil Rights Movement. That’s only two generations to begin changing the sometimes harsh attitudes of inequality that have existed.
What Are The Potential Problems With Death Row?
- Since 1983, over 60 people with mental illness or retardation have been executed in the United States.
- Up to 10% of death row inmates are suffering from at least one serious mental illness.
- In 1998, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 283,000 mentally ill individuals were incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons.
- A person must be classified as insane in order to escape from the death penalty. Other mental illnesses are not provided the same levels of protection.
- Women account for about 10% of murder arrests annually, but only about 2% of the total capital punishment convictions that are handed down.
- Men are 100x more likely to be executed for a capital crime compared to women, even if the exact same crime under similar circumstances are compared side by side.
- More than 50% of the women on death row have been abused by an intimate partner, their parents, and often both.
There seems to be a certain inequality in the death row system of the United States. Whether one if for or against capital punishment, the arguments are actually the same on both sides. People aren’t being treated fairly. Capital punishment laws are not being enforced consistently. When they are enforced, inmates have to wait decades in order to receive the final outcome of their crime. With new drug combinations being brought into question in 2014, the future of death row is still as murky as it has ever been. Right now is a turning point. Capital punishment will either grow from where it is now or support to end the practice for good will take over. Lines are being drawn in the sand because of statistics like these.
Where Do We Stand With The Death Penalty Right Now?
- As of December 2014, the United States has executed 1,394 total people.
- Japan is the only industrial democracy besides the United States that has the death penalty.
- Capital punishment is not an available consequence in 18 states in the US.
- Connecticut, Maryland and New Mexico have abolished the death penalty, but it is not retroactive. Prisoners on death row in those states will still be executed.
- As of October 2014, there were 3,035 inmates awaiting execution.
- The U.S. government and U.S. military have an additional 69 people awaiting execution.
- The total number of women who are on death row right now: 57.
- Nearly 300 clemencies have been granted in the United States since 1976 and an equal number of people sentenced to death row have been found to be innocent and released.
If a system of justice executes an innocent person, is that just because of human fallibility and a necessary casualty for the greater good? Or is the execution of an innocent person evidence of a system that is not as effective as it could be? The answers to questions like these is what will lead people to support the death penalty or work to see it abolished. Where we stand right now is this: the American system of justice is inefficient at best. It can take years to bring a capital case to trial. It can take decades to enforce a sentence. In the end, taxpayers can be charged millions of dollars to have just one sentence eventually carried out. Something needs to change because the statistics prove that capital punishment really isn’t deterring any crime.
Why Is The System of Death Row So Inefficient?
- There are at least 41 federal capital crimes in the US, including genocide, espionage, and treason in addition to several forms of murder.
- There is no standard system of enforcement. Although lethal injections are the primary form of capital punishment, 4 states allow for a gas chamber. There are 2 states that allow hanging.
- Although slave revolts are a thing of the past in American history, it’s still a Top 5 reason in American history for capital punishment to be authorized. More slaves have been convicted for capital crimes than any other profession in American history.
- It is estimated that total prosecution and defense costs to the state and counties for a capital punishment case equal $9 million per year.
- A study at Columbia University found that 68% of all death penalty cases were reversed on appeal, with inadequate defense as one of the main reasons requiring reversal.
- In the US, the states without the death penalty have a lower murder rate than neighboring states with the death penalty.
- Fewer than 1% of those who commit a homicide in the US every year are sentenced to death row.
About 9 out of 10 inmates that are sent to death row are so poor that they need to have a state appointed attorney represent them. This automatically puts people at a disadvantage because public attorneys, though working a wonderful profession, have caseloads that would make the average person throw up their arms and quit in frustration or disgust. One simple statistic stands out from all of the rest: states that don’t have the death penalty on the books have the lowest overall levels of homicide in the US. If death row is supposed to be a deterrent to a capital crime like murder, then why are murder rates higher in states that impose capital punishment? If we can discover the answer to this, then maybe we can solve the American death row riddle for good.
Is Frustration Dictating The American Opinion?
- Public opinion polls show that over 70% of the adult population would like to see a return of hanging for first degree murder.
- The homicide rate in Canada has been gradually dropping since executions were stopped in the country.
- Many countries around the world routinely refuse to extradite accused murderers to the US because of the possibility that they might be executed.
- In the state of Florida, it generally takes 17 years for a prisoner convicted of a capital crime to reach their execution date.
- When a death warrant is signed the inmate is put under Death Watch status and is allowed a legal and social phone call.
- While on death row, inmates are generally allowed a radio, a 13 inch TV that does not receive cable television, and snacks.
- In 2013, the United States ranked 5th in the world in the number of executions that were handled.
To some extent, the death row system in the United States is better than other systems in the world today. China doesn’t even let people know how many people are executed every year or what crime was committed to warrant capital punishment. In 2013, a man in Saudi Arabia was executed for a capital crime by being crucified and then beheaded. Compared to these systems, the US seems a relatively humane system. Yet when a country who has citizens that pride themselves as being Christians and following Godly principles are in the company of countries like North Korea and Iran, countries that a US President was described as an “Axis of Evil,” shouldn’t a second look at what is being done be the prudent course of action to take? The basic concept of death row is that good should triumph over evil. In the death row statistics, the US seems to be associating more with evil than with good – by the government’s own statements.
What Will Death Row Look Like In The Future?
- 80 death sentences were imposed by American courts in 2013, with 39 executions taking place.
- 6 states in the last 7 years have decided to abolish the death penalty for good.
- Although 32 states have capital punishment on the books, only 9 of them are actively putting prisoners to death.
- Fewer than 10 death row sentences have been handed down by Texas courts for 6 straight years as of the end of 2013.
- Prosecutors, judges and victims are less likely to demand execution when they know that violent criminals will die in prison.
- California voters rejected by 52 percent to 48 percent a proposal to end the death penalty and give life without parole to those on death row, but elected a governor who opposes capital punishment.
- Using the California numbers as a basis of emphasis, support to eliminate the death penalty has doubled, despite 7 out of 10 Americans wanting public hangings.
The next few years are going to bring about the opportunity for the United States to change. The 2016 election cycle will give Americans a chance to continue down a more conservative path of government that includes capital punishment or switch to a more progressive government that may work to outlaw it. From an overall numbers standpoint, the US isn’t really executing that many people every year. The question that people will need to answer is this: can they live with themselves if their support of the death penalty means that innocent people are executed for a crime they didn’t commit? More people than ever before are finding that they can’t deal with those circumstances and are choosing to oppose the death penalty. Only time will tell, however, which direction the United States will ultimately choose to go.