Nationwide Drop in Death Sentences, Executions in 2011

On December 15, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) released its annual report, The Death Penalty in 2011: Year End Report. According to the report, the number of both new death sentences and executions nationwide experienced significant declines in 2011 compared to previous years, with the number of new death sentences dropping below 100 for the first time since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

In DPIC’s official press release, the organization’s Executive Director Richard Dieter stated:

This year, the use of the death penalty continued to decline by almost every measure. Executions, death sentences, public support, the number of states with the death penalty all dropped from previous years.  Whether it’s concerns about unfairness, executing the innocent, the high costs of the death penalty, or the general feeling that the government just can’t get it right, Americans moved further away from capital punishment in 2011.

Highlights from The Death Penalty in 2011: Year End Report include these:

  • Executions have steadily decreased nationwide, with 43 in 2011 and 46 in 2010, representing a 56 percent decline since 1999, when there were 98.
  • The 2011 Gallup Poll, which annually tracks America’s abstract support for the death penalty, recorded the lowest level of support, and the highest level of opposition, in almost 40 years. Only 61% supported the death penalty, compared to 80% in 1994; 35% were opposed, compared to 16% in 1994.
  • A more in-depth CNN poll this year that gave respondents a choice between the death penalty and a sentence of life without parole for those who commit murder, 50% chose a life sentence, while 48% chose death. This echoes a 2010 DPIC poll showing that a majority of Americans favor alternatives to the death penalty.
  • Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to repeal the death penalty, making Illinois the fourth state in four years to abandon capital punishment. A commission reported that the state had spent $100 million on assisting counties with death penalty prosecutions while the state’s deficit grew to one of the country’s largest.

Here’s some of the media coverage of the report:

National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/15/143736447/death-sentences-drop-to-historic-lows

The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/the-looming-death-of-the-death-penalty/249969/

CNN: http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/15/executions-death-sentences-continue-steady-declines-in-2011/

The Wall Street Journal:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204844504577098753792115084.html