Tonight, Texas executed its 500th person since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
It is the first state to reach this unseemly milestone, with current Governor Rick Perry playing a major part, having presided over 260 executions (also a record). It’s a shocking number, and though it is certainly is a grim milestone, what does Texas executing its 500th person actually say about the current state of the death penalty in the United States?
The truth is: not much.
The death penalty has been in decline since the late-1990s, when executions reached a fever pitch.
In the past six years, six states have replaced their death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, which brings the number of death penalty-free states to 18. Of those 32 states that still have a death penalty on the books, only six have executed anyone this year.
Since life in prison without the possibility of parole became an alternative, juries have also been less inclined to sentence people to death. Even in Texas, the rate at which people are being sentenced to death is falling dramatically.
The current state of the death penalty is not reflected by this astronomical number. It is reflected in the downward trends in executions and new death sentences. It is reflected in the growing number of states that have replaced the death penalty. It is reflected in the shrinking number of states that are actually executing people.
Texas’ 500th execution is sobering, but the movement to replace the death penalty is only speeding up. The death penalty is prohibitively expensive, it’s taking away resources from programs that actually improve public safety, and we’re sentencing innocent people to die.
The death penalty is on the path toward demise, and Death Penalty Focus is committed to seeing this through to the end. Tonight was a grim reminder that our work is not yet done, but each year, we come closer to achieving our goal of ending the death penalty in the United States.
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