Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Death Penalty and Geographical Disparity

The United States is not only an outlier among developed countries in its off-the-charts incarceration rate. American exceptionalism also features an atavistic attachment to the death penalty.

The French gave up the guillotine a generation ago. Virtually all other democracies have also ended capital punishment.

But not America. The federal government and 35 states still have the death penalty on the books. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia do not.

There have been recent rumblings in Illinois and Pennsylvania about possible abolition there. For now, however, both states remain in the death penalty column.

The disparity with which the penalty is applied is shocking and scandalous. And it’s not only racial disparity I’m referring to; it's also geographical disparity. Since 1976, 1237 people have been executed in the U.S. and 464 of those have been in Texas.

Only one other state — Virginia, with 108 — has executed more than 100 people during that time. Outside the South, executions become quite rare, with only four in the entire Northeast region of the country since 1976.

No matter which state we live in, however, each of us should know more about what happens at the death house door.

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