The number of people on death row or facing possible capital resentencing across the United States now matches a three-decade low, according to data compiled by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and analyzed by the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Spring 2021 edition of LDF’s Death Row USA (DRUSA), the organization’s quarterly death-row census, reports that 2,504 people were imprisoned on state, federal, or military death rows in the United States or still faced jeopardy of death in pending capital retrial or resentencing proceedings on April 1, 2021, matching the total LDF reported in August 1991 as death row was climbing towards its peak of 3,717 people in July 2001. The number of people sentenced to death or facing reimposition of the death penalty in pending capital proceedings has declined by 32.6% since that time and has fallen every year since 2001.

The capital convictions or death sentences of 223 people listed in the LDF report have been overturned, leaving roughly one in eleven cases awaiting retrial or resentencing or with grants of relief still subject to prosecutorial appeal. Excluding those individuals, the number people in the United States facing active death sentences fell to 2,281.

34.4% (861 people) of those on death row or facing capital resentencing as of April 1, 2021 were in states with moratoria on executions. Including those in other states whose whose death sentences have been reversed, LDF calculated that there were 1,036 currently unenforceable death sentences, comprising 41.4% of all active cases in which a death sentence has been imposed. LDF reported that 1,468 death-row prisoners had currently enforceable death sentences.

California’s death row declined to 704 prisoners but remained by far the largest in the nation. It was followed by Florida (343), Texas (205), and Alabama (170). Nationwide, 42.4% of death-row prisoners were white, 41.3% were Black, 13.5% Latinx, 1.8% Asian, and 1.0% were Native American. Among states with at least 10 prisoners on death row, Nebraska (75.0%), Texas (72.7%), Louisiana (72.4%), California (67.2%) and Pennsylvania (62.4%) were the states with the highest percentage of individuals of color on death row. Two percent of all death-row prisoners are women.

LDF released its Spring 2021 report on August 31, 2021.


NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Death Row USA, Spring 2021, August 312021.