The future of the death penalty in the United States


on 27 March 2011

The debate over the death penalty has a long history in the United States, and it is a highly contentious and emotional issue.
Since its national abolition in 1972 and its reinstatement four years later, the number of executions at first increased up until the late 1990s, only to fall off again considerably in the following decade.
In fact, a nationwide poll in 2010 revealed that over two thirds of American voters would not hold a vote to abolish the death penalty against their local or national representative.
If the tide is turning against the death penalty in the United States, it is probably due to a combination of several factors, among them an increasing public awareness about the death penalty, in terms of flaws and of cost, and a feeling that other forms of punishment are perhaps preferable.
The recent fiasco concerning the possibly illegal importation of lethal injection drugs has also stoked public misgivings over the death penalty in general.
Yet the death penalty issue in the US must be considered on a state-by-state basis, as most legislation concerning capital punishment is enacted at that level.

Kansas:  An abolition bill was emotionally debated in the state senate in 2010 and finished in a 20-20 deadlock. A new bill is currently on the table in the state House of Representatives. The state has not held an execution since 1976, and the abolition movement, led by the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, has broad support among both political parties.

New Hampshire: Although New Hampshire’s congress passed a bill to abolish the death penalty in 2000, it was vetoed by the governor. The current governor has vowed to veto any abolition legislation, although the state currently has no one on death row, and does not have any execution facilities.

Connecticut: Although a recent poll showed that 67% of voters in Connecticut support the death penalty, a bill will shortly be open for debate and seems to have a good chance of passing. Responding to the poll, Ben Jones, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, said: “In these kinds of polls, when people are given the option of life without parole, support for capital punishment drops dramatically.”

Montana: Despite a sustained campaign by the Montana Abolition Coalition, the most recent of several recent abolition bills failed on March 19th, in a vote of 7-13.

Maryland: After narrowly failing two years ago, abolitionists have relaunched their campaign in 2011 with what seems to be fairly strong support from lawmakers. In addition, the governor has said he would sign abolition legislation were it to pass.

Nebraska: Last week, the state’s Judiciary Committee voted to open an abolition bill for debate, although the debate may not be taken up until next year. Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty has been active in launching and gaining support for the new bill.

Texas: Although Texas has been by far the most prolific user of the death penalty since its reinstatement in 1976, with over 400 executions, a bill for abolition has been launched and will hear testimony next week. Executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Kristin Houlé, said: “We urge all elected officials to take a good hard look at the death penalty system and ask whether this is a good use of tax payers’ dollars when there are alternative ways to protect society and punish those who are truly guilty.”

Ohio:  Although the Ohio governor is a supporter of the death penalty, there is increasingly broad support for an abolition bill currently being debated in the House of Representatives. Ohioans to Stop Executions and others are leading the campaign to support the new bill.

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