Death Penalty on Life Support?
The tragedy of Troy Davis’ execution, despite questions about his innocence, briefly captivated the public’s attention, but other important death penalty news has gone largely unnoticed this year. For instance, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber implemented a death penalty moratorium, and Illinois abolished it completely.
These and other data points are included in the Death Penalty Information Center’s year-end report released this week. 2011 was the first year since the death penalty was re-instituted in 1976 that the number of death sentences was below 100. According to the report, 78 death sentences were handed down this year, representing a 75% drop from the 315 reported in 1996. The number of executions also continued to fall, with the 43 prisoners put to death in 2011 – a 56% decrease from the 98 executed in 1999. Meanwhile, support for the death penalty reached its lowest level in decades.
Troy Davis’ death is a stark reminder of what is at stake in the debate. This unfortunate moral blemish on American society won’t completely disappear until the death penalty is abolished nationwide, but these trends offer hope and provide the motivation to keep working towards this goal in 2012 and beyond.