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Executions, Death Sentences at Record Lows in U.S.

There are currently 31 people on death row in Kentucky prisons. (Adobe Stock)
There are currently 31 people on death row in Kentucky prisons. (Adobe Stock)
November 15, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Use of the death penalty is disappearing from entire sections of the United States, and eroding in others.

That's according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. The center's Executive Director Robert Dunham says not only have executions declined by 75%, but death sentences have dropped by 85%.

He says the numbers are striking.

"There were more than 300 death sentences per year that were imposed in the United States in the mid-1990s,” says Dunham. “We are going to, this year, have the fifth straight year in which there were fewer than 50 death sentences imposed."

Earlier this year, the Kentucky Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could raise the death-penalty eligibility age in the state to 21. Since 1976, three people have been executed in Kentucky.

Dunham says public opinion, high-profile cases, and improvements in capital punishment defense and evidence have all contributed to judges and juries shifting away from death sentences.

"And as more and more states move away from the death penalty, and as juries return it less and less, we are reaching a point in which we're going to have fewer death sentences this year than in any year since the death penalty came back in the 1970s,” says Dunham.

Dunham also points out that use of the death penalty remains concentrated in the South.

"When we're looking at where executions are still taking place, it is almost exclusively in the southern states,” says Dunham.

He says 29 states, along with the U-S government and military, continue to have the death penalty as an option in criminal cases.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY