Bureau of Justice Statistics: Death Row Below 2,500 For First Time In 29 Years After 20 Consecutive Years Of Decline, Average Time On Death Row Rises To 19.4 Years

The number of people on death row in the United States fell below 2,500 for the first time in 29 years after twenty consecutive years of decline, according to the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

In a new report, Capital punishment, 2020 – Statistical tables, published on December 10, 2021, the BJS reports that 2,469 people were on death row in the custody of 28 states and the federal government as of December 31, 2020, down 3.7% from the 2 563 that the BJS now says is on death row at the end of 2019. The total marked the first time less than 2,500 people had been on death row in the United States since late 1991, when the BJS reported that 2,465 people had been jailed on the country’s death row.

Data from the BJS indicates that the size of death row in the United States peaked at 3,601 in its year-end measurements in December 2000 and has declined every year since. The 1,132 fewer people currently imprisoned on death row are down 31.4%.

As the number of people on death row continues to decline, the average length of their death row imprisonment before exoneration, conviction, death or execution continues to rise. The BJS reports that the average length of incarceration of a prisoner following his last death sentence is now 19.4 years. This figure is calculated from the date of the last death sentence of an inmate and does not take into account the time during which nearly 10% of those sentenced to death had already been imprisoned under unconstitutional death sentences or death sentences that had been overturned by the courts. More than half of those currently on death row (1,245, or 50.4%) were sentenced to death in 2000 or earlier.

For the 17 prisoners executed in 2020, the average time between the delivery of their last death sentence and their execution was 227 months, or 18.9 years. This is the fourth longest average time between conviction and execution since executions resumed in the United States in 1977. Nonetheless, this represents a decrease of more than three years from the time of 264 months between the last conviction and execution for the 22 people executed in 2019.

The report provided persistent evidence of aging death row. The average and median age of those sentenced to death at the end of 2020 was 52 years, compared to 51 years at the end of 2019. Almost a quarter of those sentenced to death (597, 24.2%) were aged 60 or over, compared to 22 , 4% at the end of 2019. In December 2000, the average and median age of those sentenced to death was 38 years old and only 2.7% of those sentenced to death had reached the age of 60 years.

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