Magazine article Corrections Today

Dying on Death Row (Other Than by Execution)

Magazine article Corrections Today

Dying on Death Row (Other Than by Execution)

Article excerpt

Introduction

There have been myriad studies examining the execution process in the U.S. Very few, however, have systematically analyzed dying on death row other than by execution. The primary purpose of this study is to delineate the trends in dying from a cause other than execution on death row in the 21st century; that is, between the years 2000 and 2013. Several recent developments, occurring particularly in the first few years of this century, make it incumbent that dying before being executed be studied more extensively.

As the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports, the death row inmate population in the U.S. is getting older. For example, in 2000, out of 3,593 death row inmates, the mean and median age were both 38 years old. (1) In 2013, out of 2,979 death row inmates, the mean age was 47 with a median age of 46. (2) Also, in 2000, 96 (2.7 percent) of the death row inmates were 60 years of age or older. (3) In 2013, 366 (12.28 percent) of the death row inmates were 60 years or older. (4) These statistics confirm the aging of the death row inmate population in the U.S.

Further, if current execution trends persist, it is safe to assume the death row inmate population will continue to get older.

The Death Penalty Information Center reports that the number of executions in the U.S. has declined significantly during the first few years of the 21st century. In 2000, there were 85 executions in the U.S.; in 2015, there were only 28 executions. (5) Obviously, such a significant decline--if it remains steady or continues--will make a major contribution to the aging of the death row inmate population. The decrease in the number of death row inmates being executed each year, in conjunction with decreased public support for the death penalty, (6) may lead to more inmates dying on death row before execution.

This study compares the number of death row inmates who died from causes besides execution between two time periods, 1973 through 1999 and 2000 through 2013. Additionally, the study reports the different ways in which death row inmates died before execution between the years of 2000 and 2013. Information about the number of death row inmates who died from causes other than execution in each state between 2000 and 2013 is also reported. In order to illuminate the discussion of dying on death row other than by execution, information about the aging of the death row population in the U.S. is initially presented.

Aging of the Death Row Population

Between 2000 and 2013, 33 states and the federal government had prisoners on death row. (7) Table 1 reports the number of prisoners under sentence of death, average number of years under sentence of death, and their mean and median age between 2000 and 2013. As stated above, and as Table 1 shows, the mean and median age of prisoners under sentence of death has increased between 2000 and 2013. Moreover, the aging of the death row inmate population in the U.S. is correlated with the increased number of years under sentence of death. In 2000, the 3,593 prisoners under sentence of death had spent an average of eight years on death row. (8) In 2013, the 2,979 prisoners on death row had spent an average of 14.6 years under sentence of death. (9) In this short period, between 2000 and 2013, the amount of time spent on death row had increased by almost seven years.

Out of the 33 death penalty states, Alabama, California, Florida and Texas are reported as having the most prisoners on death row. Table 2 discloses that in all four states, the average number of years under sentence of death has increased between 2000 and 2013. For example, in California--the state with the largest death row inmate population--between 2000 and 2013, the average number of years under sentence of death increased by over seven years. The other three states also saw a significant increase in the average number of years under sentence of death during this period. …

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