2018 has been a year of headlines, but one that may have been lost among the Parkland, Kavanaugh, Immigration, and #GirlPower stories is the ongoing decline of the death penalty.
For the fourth year in a row, the United States executed fewer than 30 people and saw less than 50 new death sentences, marking an ongoing long-term decrease in capital punishment. Only eight states carried out 25 executions. Those states were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. Texas accounted for over half of those executions.
Of note, the states that carried out executions hail largely from the Bible Belt — a region of the country that has continued to have higher rates of both executions and violent crime. This is notable as areas of the country that have done away with the death penalty or that do not use it often have lower rates of violent crime.
Not only did death penalty sentences and executions maintain historic lows, there were other signals that the death penalty is becoming a policy outside the mainstream as well. The state of Washington struck down its death penalty system this year after a study produced undeniable evidence that the system was overrun with racial bias and arbitrariness.
New Hampshire fell only two votes shy of veto override majority after passing death penalty repeal legislation through two Republican controlled chambers and with tremendous bipartisan support. In other states, prosecutors in seven counties that frequently pursued the death penalty were ousted in their elections and replaced by reform-minded District Attorneys. This is significant as death penalty cases stem overwhelmingly from only 2 percent of counties. Considering the expense of death penalty cases and the burden they place on the clearance rates for other crimes, it makes sense why voters would be turning against state actors who consistently waste their resources on these proceedings.
2018 also saw the trend of Republican state lawmakers sponsoring repeal legislation continue, with Republican sponsored bills introduced in Washington, Utah, New Hampshire, and Louisiana. Not only that, but two GOP U.S. Senate candidates — one in Michigan and the other in Montana — announced their opposition to the death penalty while still in the primary phase of their campaigns — and won their party’s nomination!
When you combine all of these stories it becomes clear that the headline quietly flying under the radar for 2018 was the demise of the death penalty. It has often been said that support of the death penalty runs a mile wide and an inch deep, meaning that support for the death penalty is high until a person takes a moment to examine the facts — upon which support quickly wanes.
The facts are that the death penalty is vastly more expensive than any other sentence or component of the criminal justice system. It is arbitrary and largely applied to the poorest among us. The system is marked with racial bias, wrongful convictions, poor representation, corruption, and trauma. It does not deter crime, and it consumes resources that could be used to solve more crimes and actually make our communities safer.
Given these things, it is no wonder those on both the right and left are turning against this antiquated system and looking for methods of correction that actually produce results in our communities. Expect nothing different in 2019.
At Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, we are excited to continue educating those on the right about the problems with the death penalty and to advocate for a system focused on justice and restoration.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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