Death Row

New and Timely Resources from DPIC

DPIC recently published a new page that presents execution data for each state and each year since 1976. This allows users to more easily see execution trends in states over time. We have also recently posted updated state data from "Death Row, USA." As of October 1, 2013, there were 3,088 inmates on death row, continuing the decline in death row population since 2000. As developments surrounding lethal injection continue to emerge, users can find current information on our State-by-State Lethal Injection page. Finally, information on legislative action on capital punishment, such as the upcoming vote on repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire, can be found on our Recent Legislation page.

NEW RESOURCES: Latest "Death Row, USA" Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row, USA shows the total death row population continuing to decline in size. The U.S. death-row population decreased from 3,108 on April 1, 2013, to 3,095 on July 1, 2013. The new total represented a 12% decrease from 10 years earlier, when the death row population was 3,517. The states with the largest death rows were California (733), Florida (412), Texas (292), Pennsylvania (197), and Alabama (197). In the past 10 years, the size of Texas's death row has shrunk 36%; Pennsylvania's death row has declined 18%; on the other hand, California's death row has increased 17% in that time. The report also contains racial breakdowns on death row. The states with the highest percentage of minorities on death row were Delaware (78%) and Texas (71%), among those states with at least 10 inmates. The total death row population was 43% white, 42% black, 13% Latino, and 2% other races.

Robert Redford's "Death Row Stories" to Premiere on CNN

"Death Row Stories" is a new 8-part series premiering on March 9 on CNN that will examine actual death penalty cases. The show is produced by Robert Redford and narrated by Dead Man Walking star Susan Sarandon. Redford said, “This series is about the search for justice and truth, we are pleased to ... tell these important stories and give a voice to these cases.” Prior to the premiere, CNN is offering interested parties an opportunity for a preview and the ability to participate in a Google Hangout featuring a discussion by the producers and law professors John Blume of Cornell and Robert Blecker of New York Law School. The Google Hangout will be held March 5 at 6 pm EST and is open to the public, but an RSVP is required. A promo for the show can be found here.

Correctional Officers' Union Calls for Improving Death Row Conditions

Prison officials in Texas are reviewing policies currently requiring all death row inmates to be isolated one to a cell for 23 hours a day. Executions in Texas are carried out in Huntsville, and the local chapter of the correctional officers' union supports changing death-row practices. Chapter president Lance Lowry said, “The correctional officers and taxpayers would benefit from an easing of the current policies. Most death row offenders could be housed two to a cell. Some of them could be given work privileges and allowed to watch TV. An inmate who has nothing to lose is a dangerous inmate.” Jeanne Woodford, a former warden of California's San Quentin prison, which houses the country's largest death row, agreed, “When inmates are permanently and automatically housed in highly restrictive environments — as they are in Texas — it is more difficult to control their behavior. To make matters worse, complete idleness breeds mental illness, causing inmates to act out and putting correctional officers at risk.” The correctional officers' union is one of a dozen organizations that support easing the restrictions. The others include mental health organizations, the Texas Defender Service, and several religious groups. The coalition is asking prison officials to allow death row inmates contact visits with family members, communal recreation, religious services, and work assignments.

BOOKS: Robert Blecker's "The Death of Punishment"

Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School, has written a new book supporting capital punishment, The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice among the Worst of the Worst. Blecker urges readers to consider his retributivist argument for the death penalty: "We retributivists view punishment differently," he wrote. "We don't punish to prevent crime or remake criminals. We inflict pain--suffering, discomfort--to the degree they deserve to feel it." He would impose the death penalty not only on some murderers, but also on corporate leaders responsible for the death of innocent people. On the other hand, he would spare many among those now on death row because they are not the "worst of the worst." Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School called the book "an eloquent, unsparing, often counterintuitive, and sometimes painful meditation on why, whom, and how a decent society should decide to punish, and what those questions can teach us about universal truths of morality and justice."

Ohio Execution Stayed at 11th Hour to Consider Inmate Organ Donation

On November 13 Ohio Governor John Kasich stayed the execution of Ronald Phillips less than 24 hours before he was to be die by lethal injection in order to consider Phillips' request to donate a kidney to his mother. Kasich stated, “I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues then we should allow for that to happen.” Medical experts will now have time to determine whether Phillips would be a suitable donor for his mother, who is on dialysis, and other implications of the donation can be considered. In 1995, Delaware death-row inmate Steven Shelton was allowed to donate a kidney to his mother. His death sentence was later reversed for other reasons. However, in Florida, Joseph Brown was not allowed to donate a kidney to his brother, who later died. Brown was freed from death row after being exonerated in 1987. Phillips also offered to donate his heart to his sister after he was executed, but donations of vital organs have not been allowed during U.S. executions because of ethical issues. Texas allows general prisoners to donate non-vital organs, but not those on death row.

STUDIES: Human Rights Groups Examine Death Penalty in California and Louisiana

The Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights recently released an analysis of the death penalty in California and Louisiana. The report concluded that those states' application of capital punishment "violates U.S. obligations under international human rights law to prevent and prohibit discrimination and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Researchers conducted interviews with many of those involved in the legal system and examined data on charging, sentencing, and executions. They found that racial disparities in the death penalty in both states constituted discrimination. The report was particularly critical of death row conditions, saying, "[E]xtreme temperatures, lack of access to adequate medical and mental health care, overcrowding and extended periods of isolation, do not respect and promote human dignity...Such deplorable circumstances have been condemned by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture as constituting cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or, in certain circumstances, torture."

NEW VOICES: Former Death Row Warden Opposed Death Penalty

Donald Cabana, the former warden of the Mississippi State Penitentiary who died recently, spent many years actively opposing the death penalty. Having supervised several executions, Cabana was particularly disturbed about one in which the inmate may have been innocent.  He said, "[H]owever we do it, in the name of justice, in the name of law and order, in the name of retribution, you ... do not have the right to ask me, or any prison official, to bloody my hands with an innocent person’s blood.” He spent many years speaking about his views on capital punishment in classrooms, public forums, and before state legislators. Cabana believed the death penalty is not a deterrent, is expensive to maintain, and is an inhumane form of punishment for those who face it and for those who have to carry it out. He noted, “There is a part of the warden that dies with his prisoner.”

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