Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Death Penalty and the United States

With the bungling of an execution in Oklahoma, the death penalty was, once again, headline news across the United States and much of the rest of the world.  While the issue of capital punishment is particularly divisive, I wanted to take a brief look at the issue from Amnesty International's latest annual report on the death penalty around the world.

During 2013, 778 confirmed executions took place in 22 countries, an increase of 14 percent compared to the previous year.  This data excludes the number of executions that took place China since the death penalty in that nation is considered a state secret, although it is estimated that thousands of executions took place in China during 2013, more than the world's combined total.  According to Dui Hua, it is estimated that 3000 executions took place in China during 2012.  As well, the number of executions that took place in North Korea is unknown.

Excluding China, here are the top ten nations in order of executions carried out in 2013:

Iran - 369 executions
Iraq - 169 executions
Saudi Arabia - 79 executions,
United States - 39 executions
Somalia - 34 executions
Sudan - 21 executions
Yemen - 13 executions
Japan - 8 executions
Viet Nam - 7 executions
Taiwan - 6 executions

It's interesting to see that the United States is in the company of Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, nations well known for their use of capital punishment for crimes of various types.  These four nations are responsible for 656 executions or 84 percent of the total executions that took place outside of China and North Korea.

Around the world, at least 23,392 people were living under a sentence of death.  During 2013 alone, at least 1925 people were sentenced to death in 57 different countries, an increase from 1722 in 2012.  Here is a list of the top 10 nations by issuance of new death sentences in 2013:

Pakistan - 226 death sentences
Bangladesh - 220 death sentences,
Afghanistan - 174 death sentences
Viet Nam - 148 death sentences
Nigeria - 141 death sentences
Somalia - 117 death sentences
Egypt - 109 death sentences
Iran - 91 death sentences
United States - 80 death sentences
Malaysia - 76 death sentences

In this case, it is interesting to note how many of these nations are Islamic; while we are quite critical of the imposition of Sharia law, it is interesting to see that six out of ten of the top ten "death sentence imposers" are Muslim nations.

The United States is the only nation in the 56 member Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to have carried out executions.  It is also the only country to have carried out executions in both North and South America.  Among the G-8 nations, only the United States and Japan carried out executions.  While the number of executions in the United States is still fairly high by international standards, it is down from 43 in 2012.  

In the U.S., eighteen states have now abolished the death penalty.  Here is a list of the top three states that contributed to 2013's total of 39 executions:

Texas - 16 executions with 9 new death sentences imposed
Florida - 7 executions with 15 new death sentences imposed
Oklahoma - 6 executions with 1 new death sentence imposed

In total, in the United States, there are 3108 people on death row including 731 in California, 412 in Florida and 298 in Texas.  Interestingly, during 2013, there were three posthumous exonerations.

Here are two interesting graphs, the first showing the annual number of executions in the United States from 1930 to 2010 and the second showing the annual number of death sentences (black) and the annual number of executions (in grey):

The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only 15 percent of people sentenced to death between 1973 and 2009 had been executed by the end of 2009 with the total number of prisoners facing a death sentence between 1973 and 2009 hitting 8115 as shown on this chart:

A 2012 study edited by Daniel Nagin and John Pepper entitled "Deterrence and the Death Penalty" found that the large number of studies that had been completed over the 35 year period since the Supreme Court Gregg v. Georgia in 1976 that ended the moratorium on executions, have not conclusively determined whether or not the death penalty acts as a deterrent, pushing down homicide rates.  As shown on this graph, while homicide rates have fallen since the 1970s and 1980s, the drop ended in the late 1990s:

The difficulty measuring the impact of capital punishment on homicide rates is complicated by other factors including changes to the criminal justice system and police effectiveness.  For example, here is a graph showing the homicide rate for Texas, California and New York between 1974 and 2009:

In each of these three states, the homicide rate patterns track closely, however, each state has a different approach to capital punishment.  In both Texas and California, large number of people have been sentenced to death (1040 in Texas, 927 in California), however, Texas executed 447 people compared to only 13 in California.  New York's approach was far different with only 10 people being sentenced to death between 1973 and 2009 and no executions, yet, its homicide pattern follows that of Texas and California.

Obviously, any discussion of the use of the death penalty is fraught with emotion.  What I see as most compelling is the fact that the United States finds itself in the company of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq when it comes to actually imposing death for criminals, countries that aren't particularly well known for their regard for human rights.

1 comment:

  1. What lesson does it teach when a state has a policy enabling it to calmly and coolly murder people. It is not a deterrent; it is expensive to the taxpayers, and we know now from DNA evidence that it can result in killing an innocent person. Check out our cohorts in capital punishment.