Where the Death Penalty Stands

Yesterday, the New Hampshire state Senate deadlocked on a bill that would have eliminated the state's death penalty, killing the bill for the moment and leaving New Hampshire as the only state in New England that still has a law providing for executions. The bill had already passed in the state House of Representatives and has the support of the governor, so one more vote would have passed it. I thought this was a nice opportunity to look at the state of the death penalty in America and around the world. On to the charts and graphs!

As of now, 32 states still have the death penalty, and 18 (plus the District of Columbia) have eliminated it. Six of those 18—Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York—eliminated their death penalties just since 2007. Even in some states that have death penalty laws on the books, capital punishment has all but disappeared. Kentucky, for instance, has executed only three prisoners since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976; Colorado has executed only one. Other states are more, shall we say, enthusiastic about capital punishment. This GIF created by the Pew Research Center shows the quantity of each state's executions over that time. (Go to the link to see the execution explosion.)

Texas alone accounts for 515 of the 1376 executions in America during this period, or 37 percent; Virginia and Oklahoma are tied at 110 apiece. But even Texas has been slowing down in recent years. Their annual total peaked at 40 executions in 2000 (George W. Bush attended to business before leaving for Washington), but in 2013 the state executed 16 prisoners. This follows a national trend, as we can see in this graph from the Death Penalty Information Center:

Unfortunately, we're still among the world's top executioners. According to a recent report by Amnesty International, there has been a steady trend away from capital punishment; by the end of last year, 98 countries had officially abolished it. (The number was 85 ten years ago). But while only 22 countries executed prisoners in 2013, the number of executions rose over the previous year. There were 778 confirmed executions, 80 percent of which took place in just three countries: Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Those numbers don't include China, which, it is believed, executes thousands of prisoners every year, but keeps the numbers secret.

That means we come in fourth among the world's countries in the number of prisoners we execute, after a communist dictatorship that hands out death sentences like parking tickets, two Islamic theocracies, and Iraq, a country still riven by terrorism and civil war a decade after we invaded and broke it to pieces. So congratulations on that. 

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