The death penalty is still legal in much of America. But increasingly, its actual use is vanishing.
A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center shows the decline: In 2016, the number of executions fell to 20, a 25-year low and down from a peak of 98 in 1999. And 30 people were sentenced to death — another record low since the Supreme Court reinstated the use of the death penalty in the 1970s.
“For the first time in more than 40 years,” the report found, “no state imposed 10 or more death sentences.”
What’s more, the death penalty is increasingly becoming geographically isolated: Just 27 counties (of more than 3,140) sentenced people to death this year, down from 60 in 2012. And Texas and Georgia alone carried out 80 percent of all executions this year.
So why is the death penalty on the decline? Part of the story is recent court rulings that have forced states like Florida and Connecticut to tighten or even abolish their use of the death penalty. But the report also put the blame largely on reduced access to lethal injection drugs:
This continuing decline reflects both the increasing geographic isolation and outlier application of capital punishment in the United States, but is unquestionably also affected by measures the American pharmaceutical industry have undertaken to prevent states from obtaining their medicines for use in executions, human rights regulations adopted by the European Union to prevent export of materials and supplies that can be used in executions or for purposes of torture, and a court order directing the federal Food and Drug Administration to prevent the illegal importation of execution drugs.
Together, all of these factors, along with the death penalty’s declining popularity in the US, have led to its decline.
For a deeper dive, check out Vox's explainer on the death penalty's decline in America: