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The Death Penalty in 2001

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), by the end of December 2001, 3,581 prisoners were under sentence of death in the thirty-seven States and the Federal prison system in the United States. Fewer prisoners (155) were received under sentence of death than at any time since 1973. Furthermore, the sixty-six (66) executions carried out in 2001 represented the second straight yearly decline in execution and was the lowest number of executions since 1996, when forty-five (45) executions were carried out. These facts are just a few of the features of America's ongoing use of the death penalty discussed in a December 2002 BJS Bulletin. PLN has previously reported BJS bulletins on the topic [ PLN, September 2001, page 14].

In 2001, California (603 prisoners), Texas (453), Florida (372), and Pennsylvania (241) were the states with the largest death row populations. These four states alone held 47% of the nation's death row prisoners. Of the 66 executions, Oklahoma led all states with 18, followed closely by Texas (17). Missouri killed seven persons, North Carolina five, and Georgia four. In addition, 19 death row prisoners in 2001 died of causes other than execution 17 from "natural causes" and two (1 each in Nebraska and Virginia) of suicide. Furthermore, in 26 states and the Federal system, 90 persons were removed from death row 81 by a court order overturning the conviction, sentence, or both; seven by commutation of sentence; and two for other causes.

Men are sentenced to death much more frequently than women; 99% of all death row prisoners are male. In most states, Whites outnumber Blacks and other races on death row. In the Federal system, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania Blacks on death row outnumbered Whites. Where ethnicity could be identified, Hispanics comprised 11% of death row prisoners. The average age of death row prisoners in 2001 was 39 years. The youngest death row prisoner was age 19 years; the oldest was 86. The 66 executed persons in 2001 spent an average of 11 years and 10 months under a death sentence.

The report is titled "Capital Punishment 2001," and is report number NCJ 197020, published December 2002. One copy of the report is free by writing National Criminal Justice Reference Service, Post Office Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000. The report may also be downloaded from the BJS website at

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