The Steady Decline of America’s Death Rows
Resource type: News
The Washington Post | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]
By Mark Berman
When the state of Arkansas announced plans to carry out eight executions in an 11-day period in April, it drew intense international scrutiny that flared until well after the final lethal injection in the series at the end of the month. In part, this attention was fueled by the explanation, offered by state officials, that the timetable was necessary because the supply of one of the state’s lethal drugs was about to expire and authorities had to carry out death penalties for eight men convicted of murder before then.
The schedule also stood out for being a modern rarity. Capital punishment in the United States is slowly and steadily declining, a fact most visible in the plummeting number of death penalties carried out each year. In 1999, the country executed 98 inmates, a modern record for a single year. In 2016, there were 20 executions nationwide, the lowest annual total in a quarter-century.
Death sentences also sharply declined. Fewer states that have the death penalty as a sentencing option are carrying out executions, a trend that has continued despite two U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the past decade upholding lethal injection practices. States that would otherwise carry out executions have found themselves stymied by court orders, other legal uncertainty, logistical issues or an ongoing shortage of deadly drugs. Fewer states have it on the books than did a decade ago, and some that do retain the practice have declared moratoriums or otherwise stopped executions without formally declaring an outright ban.