Spring 2020 Death Row Report Documents Continuing Erosion of Death Row

The slow but steady erosion of U.S. death row continued in the first quarter of 2020, data from the latest quarterly death-row census by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) has revealed. The Spring 2020 edition of Death Row USA (DRUSA), released August 10, reports that 2,603 people were on death row or facing resentencing as of April 1, 2020. That marked a decline of 17 since the January 1, 2020 report and a 2.6% drop from the 2,673 LDF reported for April 1, 2019.

The death-row population has declined every year since 2001 and has fallen by 1,049 prisoners (28.7%) since the turn of the century, when LDF reported 3,652 people on death row or facing capital resentencing on January 1, 2000.

The number of U.S. prisoners facing active death sentences also dipped slightly in the first quarter of 2020. A Death Penalty Information Center analysis of LDF’s death-row count found that 230 individuals whose convictions or death sentences had been reversed were awaiting retrial, resentencing, or completion of the appeals process. That left 2,373 prisoners facing active death sentences, seven fewer than at the start of 2020 and 70 fewer (a decrease of 2.9%) than the 2,443 death sentences that were active at the end of the first quarter of 2019.

The percentage of the nation’s death-row prisoners who are incarcerated in states that have formal moratoria on executions fell fractionally from 34.6% to 34.5%, as Colorado abolished the death penalty and Governor Jared Polis commuted the death sentences of the men on the state’s death row. As of April 1, 897 people were on death rows or facing capital resentencing in the three remaining moratorium states: California, Pennsylvania, and Oregon. Subtracting the cases in moratorium states and the cases in which convictions or death sentences have been overturned, LDF found that there were 1,523 currently enforceable death sentences in the country. 41.5% of the nation’s death-row prisoners do not have active and enforceable death sentences.

California’s death row remains the largest in the nation, with 724 prisoners, followed by Florida (346), Texas (217), Alabama (173), and Pennsylvania and North Carolina (each with 145). Nationwide, the death row population continues to reflect racial disparities in capital punishment. 42.2% of death-row prisoners were white, 41.4% 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%), Texas (73%), and Louisiana (71%) remained the states that had the highest percentage of racial and ethnic minorities. Two percent of all death-row prisoners are women.

Sources

Death Row USA: Spring 2020, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as of April 1, 2020; Death Row USA, Winter 2020, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as of January 1, 2020; Death Row USA: Spring 2019, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as of April 1, 2019; Death Row USA, Winter 2000, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as of January 1, 2000.
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