As Public Opinions Turns Against The Death Penalty, Number Of Capital Sentences Hits 35-Year Low

A study by the Death Penalty Information Center shows that both the number of death sentences meted out and the number of state executions declined in 2011 — developments which the organization says reflect “the growing discomfort that many Americans have with the death penalty”:

The number of new death sentences handed out dropped below 100 this year for the first time in over three decades, according to a new report Thursday.

Just 78 new inmates were sentenced to death in 2011 — the lowest number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, the Death Penalty Information Center said in the non-profit’s year-end report. The study also found that 43 people were executed this year, a slight drop from the 46 prisoners in 2010.

Overall, the annual number of death sentences is down about 75 percent from 1996, when 315 prisoners were sentenced to death, the report said. And along with executions and new death sentences, public opinion and the number of states with the death penalty also declined in 2011.

Three-fourths of the country’s executions in 2011 took place in the South, with Texas and Alabama topping the list. Capital punishment is legal in thirty-four states and forbidden in sixteen. This year saw Illinois abolish the death penalty, becoming the fourth state in recent years to halt executions. And Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) recently declared a moratorium on the practice while he is in office.


Additionally, in 2012 lawmakers in several states — including California, Maryland, Kansas, Ohio and Connecticut — will push legislation to end the death penalty. After the shocking September execution of likely-innocent Troy Davis in Georgia, a Gallup poll found that national support for the death penalty has fallen to a 39-year low.