The number of inmates executed this year dropped nearly ten percent from 2012, according to a year-end report by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). There were 39 executions in 2013, with more than half taking place in just two states. The report comes as support for the death penalty is hitting record lows and more states are striking the law from their books.
This is the second time since 1994 that executions have dipped below 40. The number of new death sentences, 80, rose slightly from last year, but still hovered around the lowest level since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Over the past decade, the use of the death penalty has been steadily declining, and six states, most recently Maryland, have repealed the law. Americans’ support for the death penalty also sunk to its lowest level in 40 years in October.
However, a handful of states are still conducting most U.S. executions. According to the DPIC report, all 39 executions this year were in nine states, led by Texas and Florida. More than 80 percent of executions took place in the South, and are concentrated among just 2 percent of counties in the U.S.
Other states that still use the death penalty refrained this year not because of moral qualms, but because of a lack of the necessary lethal drugs. “One of the reasons for fewer executions in 2013 was the ongoing problem that states have had in ﬁnding a consistent means of carrying out executions,” the report notes. Many European and Asian companies that manufacture the drugs for lethal injections have refused to sell them to prisons on ethical grounds, and the European Commission banned the export of lethal injection drugs in 2011. As a result, the report notes, several states have had to postpone executions as they search for alternatives. California, North Carolina, Maryland and Arkansas have not seen an execution in over 7 years because of lethal drug disputes. However, other states including Ohio, Georgia, and Texas are circumventing the international ban and turning instead to unapproved and untested drugs to kill inmates.