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February 15, 2022

Declines in 2021 leaves US death row populations at lowest level in three decades

Thanks to this posting at the Death Penalty Information Center, I just saw that the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has released its Fall 2021 edition of Death Row USA. The full LDF report runs 61 pages, but the DPIC summary provides these notable highlights:

In its Fall 2021 edition of Death Row USA (DRUSA), released February 7, 2022, LDF reported that the number of people on state, federal, or military death rows or facing possible capital resentencing across the United States had fallen to 2,455 as of October 1, 2021, down by 98 from LDF’s Fall 2020 report.  It is the lowest total since January 1991 when 2,412 people were on U.S. death rows or faced jeopardy of being resentenced to death.  Death row, which peaked at 3,717 in the July 2001 DRUSA report, has declined by 34.0% since then.

LDF found that the capital convictions or death sentences of 219 people listed in its report have been reversed, leaving roughly one in eleven cases awaiting retrial or resentencing or with grants of relief still subject to prosecutorial appeal.  Excluding those individuals, the number people in the United States facing active death sentences fell to 2,236 from its from total of 2,326 in October 2020.

LDF reported that 849 people, or 34.6% of those on death row or facing capital resentencing as of October 1, 2021 were in states with moratoria on executions.  Including those in other states whose death sentences have been reversed, LDF calculated that there were 1,034 currently unenforceable death sentences, comprising 41.4% of all active cases in which a death sentence has been imposed.  That left 1,438 death-row prisoners with currently enforceable death sentences.

California’s death row declined to 695 prisoners but remained more than double the size of death row in any other state. It was followed by Florida (333), Texas (198), and Alabama (170).  Nationwide, 42.4% of death-row prisoners were white, 41.2% were Black, 13.6% Latinx, 1.9% Asian, and 1.0% were Native American. Among states with at least 10 prisoners on death row, Texas (72.2%), Louisiana (72.3%), California (67.2%), Nebraska (66.7%), and Pennsylvania (61.5%) were the states with the highest percentage of individuals of color on death row. Two percent of all death-row prisoners are women.

February 15, 2022 at 02:24 PM | Permalink


In my home state of Kentucky, the Commonwealth has only executed 5 people since about 1955. Presently, there are only 26 people on death row in Kentucky. They stand a much greater likelihood of dying of natural causes on death row than they do of ever being executed by the Commonwealth. There is now a Bill moving thru the Kentucky Legislature to exclude from the possibility of being sentenced to death any mentally ill defendant who has one of several listed psychiatric illnesses, including bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. This state is gradually moving towards abolishing the death penalty, which may occur in the next 5 to 10 years. One interesting aspect of the death penalty among Kentuckians is that 67% of those polled say that they are in favor of the death penalty in an appropriate case, but when you put those same people on a death qualified jury they won't impose the death penalty. In one recent year, there were 106 death qualified trials held in Kentucky, but not one of those juries actually recommended death as the punishment. Things change when you put someone in a jury box and ask them to vote to kill someone.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 16, 2022 7:07:25 AM

If they want to vote against the DP in the jury box, that’s their prerogative. It doesn’t mean we should take the option away from them in a state where an overwhelming majority are for it.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 16, 2022 10:35:50 PM

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