1. Death penalty laws
2. Numbers of executions
3. Trends in capital punishment: numbers of executions, legal abolitionism, and public support
4. Death row numbers
5. Methods of execution
7. Racial discrimination in the use of capital punishment
8. Capital punishment for drug offenses
In 2012, Latvia became the 97th country to strike the death penalty from its justice system. Here’s an overview of the number of abolitionist countries:
This is a somewhat older map showing the different death penalty laws around the world (status in 2008):
(source, click image to enlarge)
The US is one of the few developed countries still allowing and performing executions. However, there are important regional differences within the U.S.: 17 states don’t allow the penalty, and 10 of the states that do have not carried out an execution in 12 years or more. 27 of 53 jurisdictions in the U.S. (50 states, the District of Columbia, the Federal Government, and the Military) either do not have the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years. Many of those have not carried out an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Only 12 states carried out an execution in 2010, and only 7 states carried out more than 1, mostly in the South (source). Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen are the only nations that put minors to death.
This map shows the legal status of capital punishment in the different states of the U.S. (not yet included is the 2012 abolition in Connecticut and the 2013 abolition in Maryland):
(source, an interactive version of this map is here, where you can also see the method of execution and the date of the last execution for individual states)
This map is more up-to-date:
Three quarters of executions worldwide occur in Asia. 95% of Asians live in jurisdictions that carry out capital punishment. China alone accounts for 90% of all executions in Asia and executes more people than all other countries combined. Exactly how many is difficult to say. The country executed approximately 5000 people in 2008 but correct numbers are unavailable because of secrecy rules. That’s a rate per capita dozens of times higher than in the U.S., and yet it’s a steep drop for the numbers of some decades earlier. in the past decade the number of people whom China executes has fallen by three-quarters, to 3000 a year, which again is a rough estimate.
Apart from China, Syria and Egypt – countries for which data are unobtainable – Amnesty International recorded 682 executions in 21 countries in 2012. Three-quarters took place in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia (source). In Iraq the number roughly doubled in a year, to 129 in 2012, of which 34 were carried out in one day.
Apart from Asia and the Middle East, the US is the most high profile “retentionist” country (meaning the opposite of abolitionist). The US killed 43 criminals in 2012, but this is a lot less than the 98 executions performed in 1999. In 2012, the United States ranked fifth for the highest number of executions, behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia but ahead of Yemen and the Sudan. More numbers on the US are here.
India is also “retentionist” but only executed 4 persons in the last two decades. Singapore used to kill a similar proportion of its citizens as China, but the rate has dropped recently. Japan, on the contrary, is executing more and more people. Saudi Arabia is known for its particularly gruesome methods.
Just 21 countries in the world carried out the death penalty in 2012. That number is down from 28 countries just a decade earlier.
All numbers of executions are underestimates given the large number of secret or unreported executions, extra-judicial executions, deaths caused while incarcerated, etc.
Some more recent figures:
The graph below ranks countries according to the estimated number of executions compared to total population, which is a more accurate indication:
This is a nice summary of some key figures:
A summary for the U.S.:
Texas executes most people, but on a per capita basis, Oklahoma leads the pack.
I’ve argued here against the death penalty, so it’s good news to see that there’s a gradual, worldwide trend in favor of the abolition of capital punishment. Let’s first have a look at the U.S. The number of death sentences in the U.S. has dropped substantially over the last decade: 328 in 1994, 111 in 2008 and 43 in 2012.
The number of executions has dropped as well:
This graph shows both the sentences and executions becoming less numerous:
The time between sentence and execution in the U.S. becomes longer. In fact, only 15% of those sentenced to death since the US death penalty was reinstated in 1976 have actually been executed. Since 1973, California for instance has issued 927 death sentences but executed only 13 prisoners (source).
The following chart shows, for the entire history of the US, the numbers as well as the methods of executions (there was a Supreme Court enforced moratorium in the U.S. in the seventies):
(click image to enlarge, more on the methods of execution in the US below)
Here’s a map showing the numbers of executions by US State (Connecticut is still shown as retentionist but this is no longer up-to-date):
Here’s another version of the map showing the numbers of executions since 1976:
However, as stated above, it’s better to look at the numbers execution per population (per million in this case):
And these are the numbers for the whole of U.S. history:
There’s yet another map here giving the numbers of executions by state.
It’s not just sentences and executions that went down in the U.S. – public support for the death penalty is also waning, especially when the people who are polled can choose the alternative of life imprisonment without parole:
Given the racial distortions in the imposition of the death penalty (see below), it’s not surprising that African Americans are generally less enthusiastic about it all:
When we look beyond the U.S. – which is indeed not the main culprit – we see that an increasing number of countries has abolished or limited the application of the death penalty. At the end of 2008, almost 140 countries had either legally abolished capital punishment, or stopped applying the punishment in practice (abolitionist in practice means not having carried out an execution in over 10 years). By the end of 2012, 97 of those 140 had legally abolished the death penalty.
In Europe, the death penalty has vanished, with the exception of Belarus:
The number of prisoners on death row around the world – the people waiting sometimes for 20 years for their “imminent” execution – is probably close to 15.000:
In the U.S., the average length of time spent on death row is 15 years. In 2009, of 3173 death-row prisoners, 113 had been there for more than 29 years.
From 2000 to 2011 there were, on average, five death-row exonerations a year in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre. North Carolina alone saw three exonerations in six months in 2008 (source).
Only four countries still carry out public executions: Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Somalia.
Stoning, a particularly gruesome form of capital punishment, still enjoys some support in many Muslim countries although it’s actually carried out in only a handful of countries:
Some information about the methods of execution in the U.S.:
Perhaps a more up-to-date map is this one:
(source, click on the image to enlarge)
A vast majority of executions in the U.S. since 1976 – more than 85% – have been carried out through lethal injection. Electrocution was used in more than 10% of cases. Some states still use the gas chamber:
Here are the actual executions by gas chamber after the moratorium in the 1970s:
I think only Idaho and Oklahoma still use the firing squad. There recently was a convict in Utah who chose to be executed by firing squad. The U.S. Supreme Court, which reinstated the death penalty in 1977, banned the use of the firing squad in 2004. It allowed only a handful of inmates already on death row to opt for the method.
And this is the map for electrocution:
It’s difficult to conclusively demonstrate the existence or non-existence of a deterrence effect because correlations unearthed (or not) in statistical analysis do not imply causation and also because those who refrain from committing crimes due to a supposed deterrent effect of the death penalty will by definition never show up in any statistic (although the start of capital punishment should imply the start of a deterrent effect – if any – and should produce a downward movement in the number of crimes).
This Amnesty International graph shows that murder rates in US states that apply the death penalty are higher than the rates in other states:
So this would indicate that deterrence doesn’t work. But we can only be sure of this when the death penalty will no longer be applied for many years to come in the states which apply it currently, and when the murder rate after abolition doesn’t go up. But even if all this happens, this can be the result of other causes.
This other graph points in the opposite direction:
However, this graph is somewhat deceptive, as I’ve argued here.
There’s a paper here presenting the results of a survey among leading criminologists regarding their opinion on the deterrent effect of capital punishment in the U.S.
The findings demonstrate an overwhelming consensus among these criminologists that the empirical research conducted on the deterrence question strongly supports the conclusion that the death penalty does not add deterrent effects to those already achieved by long imprisonment.
More about deterrence is here.
A particular problem with executions in the U.S., but probably in many other capital punishment countries as well, is racial discrimination. Whereas U.S. citizens from African-American descent make up only 12 or 13% of the population, they represent 34% of the executions:
The racial discrepancy is even larger when you look at the people on death row:
The race of the murder victim also plays a role: a murder of a white person is more likely to result in capital punishment for the perpetrator.
These are the countries that take the “war on drugs” almost literally and execute drug offenders on a large scale:
In China, the numbers are difficult to ascertain given the government’s tough stance on secrecy. Thousands are executed each year, but one can’t be more precise than that.
The Dui Hua Foundation suggests that approximately 5,000 people were executed in 2009, and states that “the manufacture, transport, smuggling, or trafficking of illegal drugs account for a significant number of executions reported by Chinese media”. (source)
Other countries in Asia also use the death penalty as a punishment for drug crimes, but to a lesser extent.
More on capital punishment here.