The Death Penalty In 2011: Three Things You Should Know

March 27, 2012

noose death penaltyEvery year around this time, Amnesty International releases its annual survey of capital punishment worldwide.

As in previous years, the report – Death Sentences and Execution 2011 – shows that support for executions continued to diminish, and that the U.S. is in the wrong company but moving in the right direction. There are three main takeaways from this years report.

1. Globally, the use of the death penalty remained in decline.  At the end of 2011 there were 140 countries considered abolitionist in law or practice (it’s now 141 with the addition of Mongolia), while only 20 countries were known to have put prisoners to death.  Only in the tumultuous Middle East was there an increase in executions.

2. The United States stayed in its dubiously bad place on this fundamental human rights issue. The U.S. was the only country in the Western hemisphere or the G8 to kill its prisoners, and was responsible for the fifth most known executions in the world, behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. (As an independent country, Texas would have ranked 7th, between North Korea and Somalia, with its 13 executions in 2011.)

3. On the other hand, there were unmistakable signs of a substantially reduced enthusiasm for the death penalty in the U.S. In March, Illinois become the 16th state to abolish the death penalty, and in November, Oregon’s Governor declared a moratorium on executions.  Nationwide, executions were down slightly (43 compared to 46 in 2010), and death sentences were way down (78 compared to 104 in 2010 and 158 on 2001).  The execution of Troy Davis in September was accompanied by an unprecedented outpouring of opposition, and a Gallup poll showed support for the death penalty at its lowest ebb since 1972.

As more states approach the finish line of death penalty abolition, and as more injustices in capital casesare exposed,  these trends in the U.S. – mirroring global trends – are likely to continue.  The U.S. may still be at the back of the abolition train, but at least it’s on the right track.

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