During the September 7th GOP debate at the Reagan library, moderator Brian Williams posed a question to Texas Governor Rick Perry about the death penalty. Williams pointed out to Perry that his state “has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.” The crowd cheered, Perry defended the distinction with pride, and a new hot button political issue took center stage.
Most people were already aware that Texas leads the nation in executions, but many questions about capital punishment in America were raised after the debate. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization that provides analysis and information on capital punishment, there have been 1,267 executions in America since 1976. As of January 1, 2001, there are currently 3,251 inmates on death row, and over 130 people have been released since 1973 with evidence of their innocence.
The South is the regional leader in executions with 1,040 total since 1976, but Texas and Virginia combined have more than half that with 583. The Midwest tallies 149, the West 74, and the Northeast a mere four (the Northeast has the lowest murder rate in the country, while the South has the highest). Out of all the defendants executed, 56% have been white, 35% were black, 7% Hispanic and 2% were defined as other. For those currently sitting on death row, 44% are white, 42% are black, 12% Hispanic and 2% other. So, where do the states stack up?
It’s interesting to note that the number of death sentences per year has dropped dramatically since 1999. According to a survey of the former and present presidents of the country’s top academic criminological societies, 88% of those rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. And a 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners found that 61% of those surveyed would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder.
With the economy being the hottest topic in the upcoming election season, it’s not surprising many political and legal analysts have been tying the capital punishment debate to taxes. In Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. Factoring in the heated and widely covered case of Troy Davis in Georgia, and it seems as though the death penalty debate in America has reached a turning point that demands heavy analysis from both sides of the issue.
Do you agree or disagree with your state’s capital punishment laws? Is a candidate’s stance on the death penalty a factor for you in this coming election? Tell us in the comments.