Death penalty dying?

Wrongful convictions and high costs slow the pace in the U.S.

According to a report from the Death Penalty Information Center, American death sentences fell to 106 in 2009, their seventh straight year of decline and the lowest total since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. ACLU leaders attributed the decline to public concerns about wrongful convictions and the high costs of capital punishment. The group’s branch in California—which has the largest Death Row of any state, with 701 prisoners, more than one-fifth of the nation’s total—cited a state commission’s 2008 report that said capital punishment was costing California $137 million a year. It would cost another $95 million a year to cut appeals times to the national average, the panel said. “All California communities would be better served if California opted for permanent imprisonment as a safe and cost-effective alternative to the death penalty,” said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. The ACLU report, based on state records, pointed to another long-term trend, an increase in the number of African Americans and Latinos on Death Row. They accounted for more than 65 per cent of the death sentences in 2009 and make up more than 58 percent of the condemned prisoners in the state, compared with 44 percent of the general population, the report said.

San Francisco Chronicle

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