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Feds Tally the Death Penalty

In December, 2000, the Bureau of Justice Statistics analyzed the United States' death penalty in a report titled "Capital Punishment 1999." It is an in-depth analysis of how the death penalty was applied in the United States in 1999, plus a preliminary execution report for 2000.

From 1998 to 1999, the number of persons in all jurisdictions sentenced to death rose to 3,527 men and women. The execution tally is 68 in 1998, 98 in 1999, and 85 in 2000. The 1999 executions were second in number only to the 105 executions in 1951. In 1998, 1999, and 2000, Texas led all jurisdictions in executions. According to the report, the 40 persons executed in Texas in 2000 "represents the most executions in a single State in any year since the Federal Government began tracking executions on an annual basis."

While Texas leads in executions, five states _ Texas, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, and Louisiana _ committed 64% of all executions from January 1, 1977, through December 31, 1999. Texas, Virginia, Missouri, Arizona, and Oklahoma were the top five of the twenty states carrying out executions in 1999, with 72% of total executions. Texas also has carried out the most executions of any state since 1930 (496), 107 more than second place Georgia carried out in the same period. California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina had the five largest Death Row populations in 1999 (1,810 men and women, 51% of the total).

The number of minorities sent to Death Row is disproportionately larger than their representation in the general population. For example, in 1999, African-Americans comprised 38.2 percent of death penalty admissions, and 42.9 percent of the total Death Row population. Whites comprised 57.7 percent of Death Row admissions and 55.2 percent of the total Death Row population in the same year. Hispanic ethnicity accounted for 10 percent of the 1999 Death Row population. (By government accounting, Hispanics are a trans-racial ethnicity.) Men vastly outnumber women on Death Row in the 18 States with female Death Row prisoners; however, from 1990 to 1999, women on Death Row increased from 35 to 50 persons.

Youth are not spared. Ten states set a minimum age of 16 for imposition of the death penalty. Three states set the minimum death penalty age at 14, while North Carolina sets the minimum age at 17 for a first murder offense and 14 for a subsequent murder offense. In 1999, the youngest person on Death Row was age 18 years; the oldest was 84 years old. Eighty prisoners were age 17 or younger when arrested for the crime that led to a death sentence.

Regional differences also affect death penalty numbers. Southern states held the greatest number of Death Row prisoners _ 1,902 collectively. Western (799), Midwestern (498), and Northeastern (247) states have far fewer Death Row prisoners.

The average time a prisoner spent on Death Row prior to execution in 1999 was 11 years, 11 months. From 1977 to 1999, the pre-execution period averaged 10 years. Black prisoners spent an average of 10 1/2 years on Death Row, while the average for white prisoners was 9 1/2 years.

One copy of this report is free for the asking. Write: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, D.C. 20531, and ask for "Capital Punishment 1999," report number NCJ 184795, published December 2000.

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