Washington: The days of capital punishment may be numbered in the United States, with sharp reductions in new death sentences and executions carried out amid waning public support, according to a report released Wednesday.
The Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, said statistics point to a continued record decline in the use of killing as punishment.
“America is in the midst of a major climate change concerning capital punishment,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC’s executive director and the author of the report.
“Whether it’s concerns about innocence, costs, and discrimination, availability of life without parole as a safe alternative, or the questionable way in which states are attempting to carry out executions, the public grows increasingly uncomfortable with the death penalty each year.”
Though two-thirds of US states still allow the death penalty, this year is expected to end with 31 new death sentences, the DPIC said in a year-end report.
Executions declined to 20 this year, the lowest number since 1991 and well below the 1999 peak of 98 executions, stoking hopes for opponents of the death penalty. The 2016 executions would be the fewest since 1972, when the US Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional. It reinstated the death penalty four years later.
Still, the possibility that the Supreme Court will once again outlaw the death penalty faded after Republican Donald Trump was elected president last month.
Notably “just five states” of the 31 where the death penalty is legal have executed a prisoner this year, the report said.
In state referendums, voters in three states — California, Nebraska and Oklahoma — approved measures to keep capital punishment. But over the course of the year, abolitionists scored court victories, such as in Florida and Delaware, where death penalty statutes were declared unconstitutional.
And, in several states, Americans elected governors, judges and prosecutors known more for their defense of human rights than their support for the death penalty.