Capital punishment in the U.S. has gotten renewed attention recently, with Connecticut’s governor signing a bill repealing the death penalty this week and Californians set to vote on a ballot initiative in November that would get rid of capital punishment in the state.
Think Progress recently reposted a map showing the legality of the death penalty across the U.S. (now out of date since the change in Connecticut), as well as data on the number of people on death row per state (dark red boxes) and the number executed since 1976 (white boxes):
Talking about capital punishment in the U.S. hides a significant amount of variation. While the death penalty is technically available in most states, its use is very uneven. In many states where the death penalty is legal, prosecutors rarely push for it, and the vast majority of death penalty sentences are never actually carried out (for instance, notice that while over 700 people are currently on death row in California, the state has a much lower number of executions since 1976 than many other states). The exception is the South, which accounts for a disproportionate number of death penalty sentences and carries out such sentences at a much higher rate than other states.
In a podcast just posted at Office Hours, David Garland, author of Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition, discusses why capital punishment persists in the U.S. and also highlights the unevenness in its application. It’s a really great summary of the various factors that lead to the patterns we see in the map.