Although three US states placed a death- penalty-related question on the ballot in the 2016 election, the overall statistics show another record decline in the imposition of the death penalty.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center’s The Death Penalty in 2016: Year End Report, “the death sentences, executions, and public support for death penalty [are] at historical lows.”
Death sentences peaked in 1996, with 315 death sentences imposed, while in 2016, about 30 death sentences were projected to be imposed as punishment. Looking at the numbers since 1973 (the year when states began re-enacting death penalty statutes), the average decline over the last 10 years is significant, showing more than a 50% decline.
The report also offers interesting facts about individual state practices, for example:
Four states that are responsible for 90% of the executions in the U.S. in 2016—Georgia (9), Texas (7), Florida (1), and Missouri (1)—have also carried out more than 85% of the country’s 83 executions over the past three years (Texas (27), Missouri (17), Georgia (16), and Florida (11)). 80% of all executions in the U.S. in 2016 took place in either Georgia or Texas.
Lastly, the report documents changes in public support for the death penalty, with a steady decline in support of the death penalty in favor of life without parole.
- Death Penalty Information Center, The Death Penalty in 2016: Year End Report (2016).
- Liliana Segura, The Death Penalty Won Big on Election Day, but the Devil is in the Details, The Intercept (Nov. 11, 2016).
- 2016 Election Results: POTUS and State Ballot Measures on the Death Penalty, Marijuana, Gun Control, and More, Procon.org (Nov. 9, 2016).
- Bureau of Justice Statistics, Publications & Products: Capital Punishment (last updated with 2013 numbers).
- Bureau of Justice Statistics, Capital Punishment.
- Death Penalty Information Center, Facts about the Death Penalty (Dec. 9, 2016).
New York has taken a substantial step in reforming its use of solitary confinement when disciplining prisoners throughout its correctional facilities. On Wednesday, the state reached an agreement in Federal Court to significantly curtail the use of solitary confinement, and to prohibit the use of such confinement when dealing with juvenile inmates.
According to the settlement, the state’s correction facilities will also use a more comprehensive approach when seeking to utilize solitary confinement as a disciplinary tool for inmates caught violating prison regulations. Specifically, correction officials will now adhere to “sentencing guidelines” that will dictate the length of time that can be imposed on certain infractions, and the maximum period that an inmate can be placed in solitary confinement. Likewise, the use of solitary confinement will also be limited to a period of 30 days when dealing with inmates who are pregnant, and those inmates who are disabled.
Notably, New York’s decision to limit the use of solitary confinement has come complimentary to a host of other states that have also begun to enact similar reform, including Colorado, Mississippi, and Washington. This recent movement amongst the states to deal with solitary confinement has come greatly appreciated by many humanitarian groups that have steadfastly contested the use of such confinement, noting the extremely negative psychological impact that it has on prisoners. Some prison officials have also begun advocating against the use of solitary confinement due to the elevated cost and risks associated with its use. Studies have suggested that segregated housing can be two to three more times costly to operate than general housing for inmates, and fail to address the fact that
[i]nmates kept in such conditions, most of whom will eventually be released, may be more dangerous when they emerge.
New York’s reform has also come at a time when the United States leads all other democratic nations in the number of inmates being held in solitary confinement. According to a New York Times report, there are at least 25,000 prisoners in solitary confinement within the United States, where some inmates are left to spend weeks, months, or even decades. Other studies have presented startling statistics relating to segregated housing within U.S. prisons, noting that up to 80,000 prisoners have been annually held in prison segregation units between federal and state facilities.
- Benjamin Weiser, New York State in Deal to Limit Solitary Confinement, N.Y. Times (February, 19, 2014).
- Erica Goode, Prisons Rethink Isolation, Saving Money, Lives and Sanity, N.Y. Times (March 10, 2012).
- The Commission on Safety & Abuse in America’s Prison, Confronting Confinement, Vera Institute of Justice (June 2006).
- State Reforms to Limit the Use of Solitary Confinement, ACLU (last visited Feb. 20, 2014).
The Homelessness Law Blog from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty reported on two noteworthy victories. First, the New Jersey Coalition for the Homeless have won for those living in Tent City, Lakewood, New Jersey. Second, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has requested information from the U.S. government about criminalization of homelessness in the United States.
- U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness: Housing, Services and Partnerships – A Successful Combination to End Street Homelessness
- Additional articles on criminalization of homelessness
- Additional articles on criminalization of homelessness and human rights
- Additional documents on criminalization of homelessness and human rights from the United Nations