Executions and death sentences at near record lows in 2021, DPIC reports

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“The death penalty in 2021 was defined by two competing forces: the continuing long-term erosion of capital punishment across most of the country, and extreme conduct by a dwindling number of outlier jurisdictions to continue to pursue death sentences and executions,” the Death Penalty Information Center stated in its annual report, released last month.

Highlights of the report, considered the definitive assessment of developments in capital punishment in the United States every year, include:

  • Support for the death penalty has continued to erode nationally since 1972 (the modern era of the death penalty), as evidenced by the dwindling number of men and women — 18 — sentenced to death in 2021. That number matches the record low set in 2020.
  • With Virginia’s abolition of capital punishment this year, a majority of states have abolished (23) or placed a moratorium (3) on its use.
  • Seven states handed down death sentences in 2021, including Oklahoma (4), Alabama (4), California (3), Texas (3), Florida (2), Nebraska (1), and Tennessee (1).
  • The majority — 56 percent — of those sentenced to death last year were Black or Latino.
  • Eleven executions were carried out by five states and the federal government in 2021, down from 17 in 2020 and the lowest number since 1988.
  • Of the 11 executed, six were Black.
  • Two death row prisoners were exonerated last year based on evidence of innocence. There have been 186 wrongfully convicted men and women exonerated from death row since 1972.

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