These States Hold About Half of America’s Death Row Inmates

The number of American prisoners executed remains close to a low hit four years ago, a new Bureau of Justice Statistics report revealed, even as the federal government breaks a 17-year pause on executions.

According to the report, released on Tuesday, the average death row inmate waits nearly 20 years to be executed, and is three times as likely to have their sentence annulled or die of other causes as to be put to death. Authors reviewing the data note that courts have struck down the death penalty in three states, and 17 other states don’t have a capital punishment statute on the books.

[READ: Why New Mexico Uses Private Prisons More Than Any Other State]

When the federal government began executing condemned prisoners again earlier this year, Attorney General Bill Barr lauded the July 14 execution of Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist sentenced to death in 1996 for drowning an Illinois family of three. Barr remarked that “the American people have made the considered choice to permit capital punishment for the most egregious federal crimes, and justice was done today.” Six other federal prisoners have been executed since Lee’s lethal injection.

Barr’s support for capital punishment is shared by a slim majority of Americans, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll, but its implementation is rare in the states. California, which held 28% of America’s 2,628 death row inmates as of year-end 2018, hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, according to the BJS figures and the Death Penalty Information Center.

Taken together, California, Texas and Florida hold nearly half of America’s death row prisoners, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, while being home to 27% of the country’s population. Florida held 13% of America’s death row inmates while Texas held 8%.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report provides some insight into who sits on death row: The average condemned inmate is 50 years old. About 46% of them don’t have a high school diploma, and 21% are married. All but 53 of the 2,628 are men.

By any measure, Black prisoners are overrepresented on death row. Black inmates make up 33% of the U.S. prison population and 13% of the overall U.S. population but account for 42% of the death row population. But Black death row prisoners have a lower likelihood of being executed than their white counterparts; 1 in 77 condemned white prisoners was executed in 2018, compared to 1 in 182 Black prisoners.

Despite the size of America’s death row, executions are rare. In 2019, 22 prisoners were executed in seven states, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report. That is close to a low of 20 in 2016, the year that saw the fewest executions since the gradual upswing in the 1980s and 1990s reached a high of 98 in 1999. Texas executed nine men in 2019, while Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee each executed three.

The death penalty was suspended in 1972 after declining in use for decades. It was reinstated in the late 1970s. As of Dec. 31, 2019, Texas had executed 567 people since the capital punishment was re-established, five times the number killed in the next most execution-prone state, Virginia, and 43 times the number put to death in the nation’s most populous state, California.

On a per-capita basis, Alabama led the nation in executions in 2019. Tennessee also executed prisoners at a higher rate than Texas, while Georgia narrowly trailed the Lone Star State.

No Northeastern or West Coast states executed anyone in 2018 or 2019. Midwestern states executed five prisoners during those years, while the remaining 42 prisoners put to death in that timeframe died in the South.

State 2019 Executions
Texas 9
Alabama 3
Georgia 3
Tennessee 3
Florida 2
Missouri 1
South Dakota 1
State 2018 Executions
Texas 13
Tennessee 3
Alabama 2
Florida 2
Georgia 2
Nebraska 1
Ohio 1
South Dakota 1

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

More from U.S. News

Why New Mexico Uses Private Prisons More Than Any Other State

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves Demands Closure of Parchman Prison Unit

States Are Putting Prisoners to Work Manufacturing Coronavirus Supplies

These States Hold About Half of America’s Death Row Inmates originally appeared on

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up