Friday, December 20, 2013

Drug Shortage Helps Lead to Fall in 2013 Executions

The long-running controversy over lethal-injection drugs helped push the number of executions in 2013 down by about 10%, according to a new report published Thursday.

In 2013, nine states were responsible for 39 executions, four fewer than the 43 carried out in both 2012 and 2011, according to an annual study of the death penalty by the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization.

With the exception of 2008, in which 37 inmates were put to death, the 2013 figure represents the lowest since 1994, when 31 people were executed.

The number of executions peaked at 98 in 1999. “And since then, it’s been a stairway drop down,” said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization largely opposed to the way the death penalty is carried out in the U.S. “The new reality is that the death penalty is marginalized. It’s just not widely depended on as an answer to murder or horrendous crime.”

The numbers were deflated this year at least in part by shortages in lethal-injection drugs. Several states, including North Carolina, Arkansas and California, have essentially halted executions while they search for alternatives to two drugs – sodium thiopental and pentobarbital – that have traditionally been used in lethal-injection procedures. Makers of the drugs have over the past few years stopped their production or mandated that they not be used in executions.

On the other hand, the number of death sentences ticked up slightly in 2013, to 80 from 77 in 2012, according to the report. That number is still well below the recent highs. In 2000, 225 people received death sentences.

A sharp drop in violent crime, the high cost of pursuing executions and shifts in state sentencing laws have all played a role in the drop in death-sentences. And fewer death sentences will likely lead to an even further decline in executions in years to come, predicts Mr. Dieter.

In 2013, southern states carried out 82 percent of the executions, with two states – Texas and Florida – accounting for nearly 60% of them. Oklahaoma, Ohio, Arizona and Missouri were the only other states that executed more than one person.

“The U.S. is a death penalty country, but when viewed more closely, it’s become divided and clustered in just a few areas,” said Mr. Dieter.

Public support for the death penalty, as measured by the latest Gallup poll released in October, declined to 60%, its lowest level in 40 years. In February, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to do away with its death penalty.

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