U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released its latest report for the year 2021, confirming a continued decrease in the number of people on death rows in the United States.

The BJS report, Capital Punishment, 2021 – Statistical Tables, released in November 2023, indicates that 2,382 people were under sentence of death in the custody of states and the federal government in 2021, a 3% decrease in the national death row population from 2020. This total marks the first time fewer than 2,400 people were under sentence of death in the United States since the end of 1990, when BJS reported 2,346 people were imprisoned on the nation’s death rows. The BJS data indicate that the size of U.S. death row peaked at 3,601 people in 2000 and has fallen every year since. The 1,219 fewer people imprisoned on death row in 2021 marks a decline of 33.9%.

While the number of people under sentence of death continues to drop, the average time spent on death row prior to exoneration, resentencing, natural death, or execution continues to rise. BJS reports that, on average, death row prisoners incarcerated as of December 31, 2021, had spent 20.2 years behind bars. For the 11 prisoners executed in 2021, the average time elapsed between imposition of their most recent death sentence and their execution was 233 months, or 19.4 years. This was the fourth longest average time between sentence and executions since the resumption of executions in the U.S. in 1977. This also represents a slight increase of 6 months from the 227-month average recorded for the 17 individuals executed in 2020.

The report provided continuing evidence of an aging death-row population. The average age of prisoners on death row at the end of 2021 was 53 years, up slightly from 52 at the end of 2020. DPIC data show that the average age is now 54 years old.  More than a quarter of death row prisoners (631, 26.5%) were 60 years or older, up from 24.2% in 2020. In December 2001, the average and median age of death-row prisoners was 39 years and only 2.6% of death row prisoners had reached age 60.


Tracy L. Snell, Capital Punishment, 2021 – Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2023.