April 24, 2017

5 facts about the death penalty

Capital punishment is legal in a majority of U.S. states, including in two states – California and Nebraska – where voters decided to retain it in the 2016 election. Nationally, however, public support for the death penalty has fallen in recent years, as has the number of executions.

The death penalty has been back in the news recently as Arkansas carried out its first execution since 2005 – one of eight inmates the state originally planned to put to death over the course of 11 days this month. Courts have since intervened and temporarily halted some of the executions.

As the debate over the death penalty continues in the U.S. and worldwide, here are five facts about the issue:

1The annual number of U.S. executions peaked at 98 in 1999 and has fallen sharply in the years since. In 2016, 20 inmates were executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. That’s the lowest annual total since 1991, when 14 people were executed. Just five states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Texas – accounted for all executions in 2016, compared with 20 states in 1999.

2For the first time in a decade, the U.S. was not among the top five countries in executions in 2016, according to Amnesty International, a human rights organization that opposes the practice. The U.S. ranked seventh internationally, behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt. Overall, there were at least 1,032 executions in 23 nations in 2016, with just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan – accounting for 87% of the total. The international total excludes figures from China, which does not publish information about its use of capital punishment but may well carry out more executions than all other countries combined. Indeed, the Cornell University Law School estimated that the Chinese executed 2,400 people in 2015.

While the overall number of global executions was down 37% from 2015, it remained higher than the average recorded for the prior decade, and the number of death sentences reached a record high of 3,117 in 2016.

3Support for the death penalty in the U.S. has fallen dramatically in the past two decades, but more Americans still favor than oppose it. A Pew Research Center poll in August and September 2016 found that 49% favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 42% oppose it. But support is at its lowest level in more than 40 years. Democrats account for much of the decline in support over the past two decades. In 2016, just 34% of Democrats favored the death penalty, compared with 72% of Republicans.

4Americans harbor doubts about how the death penalty is applied and whether it deters serious crime. In a Pew Research Center survey from 2015, about six-in-ten adults said the death penalty does not deter people from committing serious crimes. About half also said that minorities are more likely than whites to be sentenced to death for similar crimes, compared with 41% who said a death sentence is equally likely for both. About seven-in-ten adults (71%) said there is a risk that an innocent person will be put to death, including 84% of those who oppose the death penalty. Even a majority of death penalty supporters (63%) said there’s a risk of taking an innocent life.

5There are racial and gender divides in opinions on the death penalty in the U.S. A majority of whites (57%) favor the death penalty, compared with 29% of blacks and 36% of Hispanics, according to Pew Research Center survey data from 2016. Also, men are more likely than women to favor capital punishment (55% vs. 43%).

Note: This is an update to a post published May 28, 2015, written by Sara Kehaulani Goo, then a senior digital editor at Pew Research Center.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Religion and U.S. Politics, Criminal Justice, Death Penalty

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous3 months ago

    I am amazed how people think death penalty is for civilized societies. On the other hand most people in death row in USA are minorities that did not have a competent representation, some others are mentally ill, other plain innocents.

  2. Anonymous1 year ago

    You guys are all defending the criminals rights for a second chance…But what about the people he/she may have murdered? What about their second chance?

  3. Anonymous1 year ago

    people should get killed for their crimes

  4. Gavin Kirk1 year ago

    I think that most individuals whom sit on Death Row, whom have committed heinous, detestable acts do deserve to have their life taken. There are far worst things than death such as torture, constant public shame and fear. But we’re not talking about these things.
    Multiple murderers and rapists do not get a second chance…..in that they’re most likely to commit those acts again. Most violent / criminals whom are released, Do commit similar crimes soon after release.
    As science, and proper mental health detection and treatment improves less innocent people will be convicted and the crime rate drops.
    What we truly need to focus on, regarding the Judicial System, is the ever growing Legalism. The trampling Civil Liberties by Police. Prosecuters stacking criminal violations so they can get a conviction thus win, even against non-violent offenders.
    Why is Law Enforcement allowed to unholster and shoot liberally to Death an assailant even on suspicion more so than a Military Soldiers rules of engagement. That is a serious Problem.

  5. William2 years ago

    The only reason the death penalty should ever be used if they have 100% evidence that you committed the crime! and the reasons of that judgment should be for Murder “Not in the defending of your life liberty or property!” Rape & molestation “woman, OR male, old, or young” ~Billy Gunnells follow me on Instagram @d.x.m.e

  6. jesse brooks2 years ago

    You all use an eye for a eye but it also says a life for a life. It also says that GOD put judges to judge us when we do wrong. Just like in the days of the old testament.

    1. Anonymous8 months ago

      If we follow the Old Testament’s views on the death penalty, then there were a LOT more grounds for execution than are present in state laws today. Execution of non-virgin brides is one example. I feel that it is more important to ask the question: “What would Jesus do?”

      Fortunately, we don’t have to guess. John 8:7 and preceding verses describe Jesus presence at a legal execution of a woman by stoning. He repeated an ancient Hebrew saying: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” thus preventing the execution. That seems to settle the case: Jesus was pro-life when it came to executions.

      I have written a two essay article on the status of the death penalty today in the U.S. See religioustolerance.org/death-pen…

  7. Prayojan Wagle2 years ago

    There are many countries which has death penalty rules.Is it good? Isn’t it against the human rights. I think every person should get a second chance so they can change their selves. I found such list of countries in a popular Australian magazine publishing the yearly assassination rate. Do you know the fact that 1000+ people are killed in china every year.You can also know the crime that leads to such death penalties.For more information you can visit billionairesnewswire.com/ten-cou…

    1. Marc2 years ago

      While it would be nice for people to get a second chance, the people who are given the death penalty are people who would waste that chance and hurt more people.

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        atta boy

        1. Anonymous3 months ago

          The illegal immigrant that murdered Kate Stienle in San Francisco had SIX chances of being a good man. But on his 7th entry across the border, he murdered the helpless young woman. Second chances should be reserved for those who do not take a human life, or multiple lives, or those of children, or cops. Yes, the Lord will ultimately make the Final Judgment on killers, but while here on earth, these murderers must face their peers.

  8. Amanda Knopp2 years ago

    It is morally indefensible to take a life, especially when it is in the name of “Thou shalt not kill”

    1. satanist2 years ago

      dont quote the bible

      1. B2 years ago

        Do not tell her what to do

        1. HFBAJFB2 years ago

          dont tell him what to do

          1. Andrew2 years ago

            grow up you people it costs us around 70000 dollars per prisoner per year to keep them in prison the average death row inmate in on death row in prison for at least 20 years before they are even put to death why keep the murderers around they deserve what is coming to them and they suffer for 20 years in prison before they get it not to mention they get 3 meals a day a shower a bed and clean water and also better health care than most Americans who are innocent do so get the facts before you say your opinion.

      2. Sarah Dicus1 year ago

        I get that you’re “satanist” and all, and I do understand that an argument has a stronger foundation in statistics than in religious views, but I fail to see where that gives you the right to tell someone what to do. In addition, she is making an excellent point. It’s a bit hypocritical to kill a person for killing someone else when “Thou shalt not kill” is the reason. Furthermore, that verse is not mere Biblical scripture, but a common value across several belief systems (Jain Buddhists are an extreme example).

        1. Anonymous3 months ago

          It is thou shalt not murder not kill.

    2. Strdtvjhvkb2 years ago

      I’m neutral for the death penalty. Yes, it does say though shall not kill in the bible. In fact it is a ten commandment! Although, in Genesis 9:6 it says “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” And Revelation 13:10 says, “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.” I now this may sound mean, but don’t use the bible as your only source. This is because there are different perspectives inside the book. God, unlike us, can use any perspective he wishes. We only have our own. Although, studies have shown that the death penalty does not reduce crime rates. It also violates basic human rights. Although, since the death penalty is a very controversial topic people are more sensitive to sentencing. I highly doubt they would convict an innocent. The Dna testing and the trial itself are so thorough that it is nearly impossible to accuse an innocent person. A lot people for death penalty faulted their opinion when they see a case where the attacker was abused and after a period of time exploded and killed their abuser. In these cases the accuser is more likely to be assigned to mental hospital hours and therapy. My opinion is that the death penalty be saved for the cold hearted insane. A psychopath who is so addicted to murder that they cannot find anything more pleasuring. You can give this person a medication to reduce their monstrous thoughts but after a while they will remember the pleasure of murder and begin to thirst for the blood of the living. Meaning: they will do it again. That is where I believe we should all agree. A person who has murdered multiple people and ENJOY it has lost their humanity.

  9. Melissa A2 years ago

    I have a hard time killing a mosquito that lands on my arm, much less a living, breathing human being. Why you ask? Because I am not God. Who are we to detrmine if someone should be allowed to remain living. Justice will be served while the criminal sits behind bars only seeing the world from a distance. That criminal is someone’s Son, someone’s Mother, maybe someone’s Brother. Two wrongs dont make a right. We are essentially committing the same offense the criminal did in the first place, only we are allowed to because the government says its okay.

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      Only the most vile and vicious murderers receive the death penalty. The do so because they have proven by their actions that they are not worthy to live in a civilized society. They cannot be rehabilitated. They are put to death in this life to be free of the vileness they’ve shown to this society! This world, or this country, has not passed judgement on the defendants soul (just his or her unacceptable actions of their earthly existence); we are simply hastening, or arranging, the ultimate meeting with the real judge!
      Defendants who are sentenced to die aren’t really “judged” – they have just been “fired” from their life for demonstrating behavior that is unfit for further “employment” on this earth! God will be the one to judge whether they truly die when they stand in front of HIM!
      Over $100K a year of taxpayer money to keep them in prison for the rest of their earthly life or a few dollars to send them to the ultimate judge and sentencing – let them be judged!

  10. Susan Schindler2 years ago

    Why do so many polls ask about the death penalty in isolation? I have heard that, when asked to choose between the death penalty and life without parole for the worst crimes, a majority of Americans choose life sentences.

  11. James2 years ago

    The death penalty was enacted , not put INTO law to detour crime. But to punish those that commit the most heinous , evil crimes. Read the law book. Stop making your opinions law. We will still pay $45,000. A month for each prisoner across the United States. Don’t worry people your tax dollars will be spent. Just work harder to support another family / person in prison. Another part time job would be helpful. Prisoners appreciate their rights (not responsibilities) of your mandated support. Where’s the research on this.???

    1. tim2 years ago

      we kill people that kill people because killing is wrong… how does that make sense???

      1. Linda2 years ago

        Makes a lot of sence, eye for an eye!

        1. Kenneth2 years ago

          “You have heard it said ‘an eye or an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say in unto you do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on your right check turn to then the other one also.”

          “You have heard it said ‘love your neighbors and hate your enemies’ but I say unto you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven.”

          “You have heard it was said to the people long ago ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you anyone who is angry with their brother or sister is subject to judgment…And anyone who says ‘you fool!’ will be in danger of the fires of hell.”

          I am not inherently opposed to the death penalty, but it is only the right thing if our motives are right. An eye for an eye is just a way to justify hatred and the atrocities it can lead to.

      2. Amanda Knopp2 years ago

        I do so agree, you put it very well

      3. Anna2 years ago

        I for one agree with you. But at the same time “if you take one’s life one shall take yours” so i agree yet disagree.

      4. Gavin Kirk1 year ago

        Firstly, they receive 3 meals a day, healthcare, electricity and some get to watch TV all paid for by you and I the Tax Payer.
        Secondly, if these murderers and rapists were all allowed to go free, they become a liability to Law Enforcement and more likely to commit those same violent crimes. Vigilantism would be also widespread .
        Thirdly, if these ultra violent criminals are allowed to breed think of the corrupted genetics being spreed amongst the populations.

        Would you justify the Death Penalty towards War Criminals?

        “The Death Penalty is Not Barbaric for the Barbaric!’ . Exactly! Very Well Said .

    2. Linda2 years ago

      Very well put, this is also a BIG problem, paying for these killers
      to be fed and have medical coverage and education. Think about this
      for the bleeding hearts, but watch what you at think if this poor pity
      person kills one of your family!

  12. yadranka2 years ago

    The death penalty is barbaric. It has no place in a country like ours.

    1. Joe2 years ago

      It’s called an eye for an eye and that’s a very common way to deal with punishment. Not saying I agree with the DP, but that where the logic comes from.

    2. Gary Schelvan2 years ago

      I will tell you what is barbaric. It is the awful, heinous torture and death perpetrated against the victims…remember them. I firmly believe that if you commit a premeditated cold blooded murder such as Scott Peterson…plain and simple you deserve to die, and as quickly as possible.

    3. Elanore X.2 years ago

      the death penalty is not barbaric for the barbaric

  13. Randy2 years ago

    Relative to item 5, why didn’t you show the actual numbers of people who have been executed by race? It would have been interesting to see what the reality was vs. the perception.

    1. Hannah2 years ago

      if you want to see those numbers, be sure to factor in the rest of the equation as well, such as; population difference of white people vs poc, the conviction rate, the arrest rate, etc. its not just numbers, its percentages and rates.