Death Penalty Statistics in the US: Are We a Barbaric Country?
Published August 17, 2022
Capital punishment or the death penalty is not new to the US, or to the world for that matter. Across the world and in different cultures, the death penalty had been used to punish criminal offenders since time immemorial. In the US, we’ve been executing people way before there ever was a United States.
In recent years, however, the death penalty had been getting a lot of flak for its barbaric nature. As a result, many countries have abolished it. Recent death penalty statistics also show that this form of punishment is on the way to becoming just another grim part of human history.
But what most people don’t realize is that the death penalty is still very much legal in the US. Though not as common as before, people are still getting legally killed for a crime they may or may have not committed. In fact, some states have rewritten their death penalty statutes leading to more executions.
To help shed light on how the US is faring against the world in terms of capital punishment, let’s look at the death penalty statistics locally and globally.
Capital Punishment Statistics Worldwide
Due to some countries’ secrecy laws, getting the exact numbers for capital punishment around the world can be difficult. Here are a few statistics that some organizations have managed to record:
- As of 2021, 170 countries have abolished the death penalty or are no longer practicing it. (Source: United Nations Human Rights Commission)
- At least 55 countries still impose the death penalty for ordinary crimes. (Source: Aljazeera)
- In 2021 alone, Amnesty International recorded a total of 579 executions in 18 countries. Though these numbers tend to be understated due to secrecy laws in countries like North Korea, China, and even Vietnam. (Source: Amnesty International)
- Most of the reported executions happened in China, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria with China being the world’s leading executioner. (Source: Amnesty International)
- As of May 2022, 90 countries have expressed commitment to the full abolition of the death penalty. (Source: penalreform.org)
Death Penalty Statistics in the US
Here are some of the statistics you need to know about capital punishment in the US:
- Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 up until July 2022, there had been a total of 1,547 death row executions. That averages to about 33 executions per year. (Source: Death Penalty Information Center)
- A total of 27 states and the federal government (US Department of Justice and US Military) still have active death penalty laws. Although 13 of these states and the US military haven’t had any executions for the last ten years. (Source: Death Penalty Information Center)
- American opinions about the death penalty differ by religious affiliation. About 58% of Catholics support capital punishment along with 66% of Protestants. While 65% of atheists and 57% of agnostics are against it. (Source: PEW Research Center)
- In 2020 alone, there are a total of 2,469 death row inmates in both federal and state prisons. (Source: Bureau of Jail Statistics)
- California, Florida, and Texas held half of all the country’s death row inmates with California having the highest number of people on death row at 28%. (Source: Bureau of Jail Statistics)
- More than half of those executed (55.6%) are of Caucasian descent, 34.2% are African-American, and 8.3% are Latino. (Source: Death Penalty Information Center)
- Around 64% of US adults believe that the death penalty is justified for certain crimes like murder. (Source: PEW Research Center)
- White people also comprise more than 75% of the victims in death penalty cases. (Source: Death Penalty Information Center)
- Since 1983, more than 185 death row inmates have been exonerated after they were proven innocent of the crime they were sentenced to death with. (Source: Death Penalty Information Center)
- A total of 14 offenders in 7 states were sentenced to death in 2020 alone. (Source: Bureau of Jail Statistics)
- As of 2020, about 98% of inmates on death row are male. (Source: Bureau of Jail Statistics)
- About 66% of all juveniles sentenced to death were people of color while 35% of all executions in the past 40 years involved black inmates. (Source: NAACP Criminal Justice Project)
- 63% of US adults believe that the death penalty does not deter people from committing heinous crimes. While nearly 8 in 10 believe there’s a risk that an innocent person can get executed. (Source: PEW Research Center)
- A total of 16 women have been executed since the courts reinstated the death penalty. (Source: NAACP Criminal Justice Project)
US States with Active Death Penalty Laws
As of 2021, there are still 27 US states that enforce the death penalty. This includes:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
Methods Of Execution
So, how are the executions performed? Let’s take a look at how capital punishment was performed back then and how it evolved over the years.
- Hanging / Firing by Squad – is the method of execution for the first 150 years of the country’s existence until the invention of the electric chair.
- Electrocution – became the standard method of execution back in 1880 until 1982. Convicts were electrocuted in an electric chair before lethal injections were introduced.
- Lethal Injection – Although some other states still use electrocution and hanging, lethal injection is still the most preferred method of execution today.
Life on Death Row
It’s not exactly a secret that the death row is one of the scariest places in prison. If those in the general population complain about expensive jail calls and lack of access to health and dental services, death row inmates have to worry about receiving their execution notice every single day.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), most inmates who received a death sentence spend around 10 years on death row waiting for the courts to decide on their appeals or for their notice of execution to be issued.
During these years, they are isolated from the rest of the prison population. They can’t participate in the prison’s educational and employment programs. Plus, they typically spend 23 hours a day in their jail cells with very limited visitation and recreation time. Because of these conditions, many inmates on death row suffer from various physical and mental health issues.
Are We a Barbaric Country?
It depends, really. If we only consider the number of people being executed per year, it may seem like the US has a propensity for killing offenders. But if you look at the bigger picture, you’ll see that the situation has significantly improved.
Still, the US remains one of the world’s most prolific criminal executioners – a dubious honor for a country that has always prided itself on its democracy. In short, we are not barbaric but we still have a long way to go in terms of achieving a more humane criminal justice system for all Americans.
(Related: Jailing the Innocent: Wrongful Convictions Statistics in the US)
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a professional writer for the GlobalTel blog. She works hard to ensure her work contains accurate facts by cross checking reputable sources and doesn’t settle for less. Her passion for telling stories about true crime and criminal justice has allowed her to create hundreds of articles that have benefited millions of people.