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December 21, 2010

DPIC releases year-end death penalty report for 2010

As is its tradition every December, the Death Penalty Information Center has now released its annual year-end report on death penalty developments in 2010.  This DPIC report, which has in bold on its first page the claim that "As Use of the Death Penalty Continues to Decline, a Majority of Americans Support Repeal; Executions Drop 12% -- Death Sentences Remain Near Historic Lows," once again marshals the latest death penalty data to claim that the capital punishment is dying a slow death in the United States.  Here are parts of the report's introduction:

The death penalty continued to be mired in conflict in 2010, as states grappled with an ongoing controversy over lethal injections, the high cost of capital punishment, and increasing public sentiment in favor of alternative sentences.  Executions dropped by 12% compared with 2009, and by more than 50% since 1999.  The number of new death sentences was about the same as in 2009, the lowest number in 34 years....

Although 35 states retain the death penalty, only 12 carried out executions in 2010, mostly in the South, and only 7 carried out more than one execution.  Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 82% of the executions have been in the South.  California has not had an execution in almost 5 years, and the same is true for North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and several other states.

I see the capital punishment facts a bit differently, as it seems to me that we have achieved a point of relative stability around the use of the ultimate punishment in the US.  Over the last five years, the US has had right around 50 executions and a few more than 100 death sentences imposed each and every year.  Whether these numbers for executions and death sentences are idea might be subject to lots of debate, but I think it is pretty clear that they represent the new normal for capital punishment in the United States.

My view my be influenced by the reality that Ohio has been a death penalty growth state in recent years.  My local paper has this new piece, headlined "Ohio only state to execute more in 2010," discusses this reality.

December 21, 2010 at 08:38 AM | Permalink


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"Executions dropped by 12% compared with 2009, and by more than 50% since 1999."

The first part of this statement is quintessential DPIC spin. Cherry-pick your point of comparison to make the point you want.

The numbers for the last four years are 53, 42, 37, and 52. Average the recent years and what do you get? Forty-six on the nose, the same as this year's total to date. This year's "drop" is reversion to the mean after the post-Baze bounce.

The drop from the peak is real, but the reasons are more complex than DPIC wants to tell people. For new death sentences, half the drop is explained simply by the drop in murder rate, but you won't find that in the report.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Dec 21, 2010 1:50:52 PM

Didn't know murders were down 50% in the last decade, good to know.

Posted by: anon | Dec 21, 2010 2:54:02 PM

Yes, executions are down. Do you know why? The lethal injection challenges that were supposed to be done away with by Baze are still ongoing and now a shortage of drugs are holding up others. Scores of executions are held up in Kentucky, Tennessee, California, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Delaware.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Dec 21, 2010 6:33:44 PM

American death penalty is dying

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Dec 22, 2010 2:30:04 PM

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