January 4, 2016—2015 could easily be remembered as a landmark year for America’s waning death penalty system. In May, Nebraska became the first red state to legislatively repeal capital punishment in over 40 years when Republican legislators championed the effort in order to stay true to conservative principles. However, Nebraska’s success isn’t the only telling evidence that its days are numbered.
The Death Penalty Information Center released its annual report in December, which revealed that nationally, capital punishment is declining by virtually every metric. Considering the more than 155 people who were wrongly sentenced to die in the U.S., the death penalty’s high cost, and its inability to make society safer, its descent comes as no surprise.
Death sentences and executions peaked in the 1990s, but its use has fallen as more of the death penalty’s failures have come to light. In 2015, there were an estimated 49 death sentences imposed, which represents the fewest since the early 1970s. The total number of people on death row nationally has dipped to 1995 levels. This trend also extends to historically pro-death penalty states too. According to a report published by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Texas has sentenced nearly 1,100 individuals to die since 1974, but in a significant reversal, only three individuals in the Lone Star State have received a death sentence in 2015.
Executions are also declining to historic levels. Only six states carried out executions in 2015 – the fewest in 27 years. The total number of people executed was 28, which is the lowest since 1991. Following Nebraska’s decision to rid themselves of their defective capital punishment program, Montana and Oklahoma enacted de facto death penalty moratoriums as the capital punishment dominos continue to fall.
The death penalty is slowly receding into disuse, but as it stands now, its risks and costs are still unacceptably high. In 2015, it was discovered that six people were originally wrongly sentenced to die. Fortunately, these mistakes were discovered before they were executed. Nonetheless, they spent an average of 19 years in prison after their erroneous convictions.
In 2015, there was further evidence of the death penalty’s high cost. A new cost study out of Washington was published, finding that capital cases cost taxpayers on average over 3 millions dollars per case. This high price tag for the death penalty is similar to the findings of other cost studies across the nation.
Capital punishment is increasingly attracting fewer supporters. Gallup found that support for the death penalty is near a 40-year low. Another poll, which was released in November, revealed that a majority of Oklahomans and a plurality of the state’s Republicans support repealing and replacing capital punishment.
Conservative lawmakers and the electorate are increasing their involvement to halt the death penalty’s use. Republican legislators in Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and the South.
Dakota have already announced plans to sponsor repeal legislation, and more are likely to come. Meanwhile, state-level Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty groups have sprung up in Montana, Nebraska, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington to give voice to the many conservatives who question the prudence of the death penalty. More than ever, the capital punishment’s advocates are finding fewer allies on the political right or left. Capital punishment’s heyday is over, and its demise appears to be looming.
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