Capital punishment in the United States is now at its lowest in more than two decades, a recent study conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center has revealed.
Up until now, 28 American convicts have been executed ever since January 2015, and no other executions are pending for this year.
By comparison, last year there were 35 instances when prisoners received the capital punishment. This downward trend has actually been going on almost unabated ever since 1999, when 98 people were punished by death.
2014 marked the fewest number of executions ever since 1994, when a total of 31 inmates were sent to the death row. This year has set a new low, which hasn’t been reported for the last 24 years, given that 28 people received the capital punishment throughout the course of 2015.
Overall, the death penalty has been enforced in 6 states since the beginning of the year: Texas (13 executions), Missouri (6), Georgia (5), Florida (2), Oklahoma (1) and Virginia (1).
As explained in the report released on Wednesday, December 16, one possible explanation for the fact that the number of people being executed this year has dwindled so much lately is linked to lethal injection availability and concerns.
Ever since the death penalty was re-introduced in the U.S. back in 1976, 19 states have abolished it, while the other 31 have maintained it, mostly by using a combination of 3 drugs.
The mix includes an anesthetic such as pentobarbital (to render the prisoner unconscious), a muscle relaxant such as pancuronium bromide (to induce paralysis) and potassium chloride (to cause cardiac arrest).
However, Arizona and Texas have had trouble procuring sedatives like sodium thiopental and pentobarbital, as a result of limitations imposed by the European Union and by pharmaceutical companies.
Moreover, other states such as Florida have temporarily discontinued the practice of punishing inmates by death, as the effectiveness of another anesthetic called midazolam is being determined.
There have been cases when death row prisoners who had been administered midazolam experienced severe symptoms: Clayton Lockett, for instance, who was executed in April 2014, had convulsions and writhed in pain for 43 minutes, eventually suffering a fatal heart attack.
As emphasized by Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, such failed executions discouraged certain states from attempting to carry out the death penalty. The practice has been postponed until a drug mix that yields the desired results can be found.
The study has also revealed that the year 2015 was the one when the fewest number of new death sentences were pronounced by judges, across a period spanning more than 4 decades.
A total of 49 people received such a verdict this year, whereas in 2014 a number of 73 prisoners were sentenced to death, a staggering decline compared to 1994, when around 300 inmates were put on the death row.
Kent Scheidegger, of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, believes that this reduction in death sentences can be attributed to improved legal assistance provided to the accused, and to a smaller number of homicides.
Moreover, another factor is that prosecutors have been pursuing the death penalty solely for crimes that warrant it, as support for this type of punishment has dwindled, being encountered among just around 61% of all Americans, according to a recent Gallup survey.
Despite the fact that the number of executions has declined across the country, the United States still has the highest rate of death penalties across all industrialized nations, and worldwide it’s surpassed solely by China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Image Source: Flickr