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Study: Death Penalty Use Drops Sharply in US

The death chamber of the new lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., Sept. 21, 2010.

The number of executions in the United States has dropped to its lowest level since 1991, according to a study by the Death Penalty Information Center.

As of Dec. 15, 28 death row inmates were executed in the U.S., said the non-profit DPIC, which says it tracks data about capital punishment but does not take a position on the issue. In a news release, the DPIC noted that “the use of the death penalty in the U.S. declined by virtually every measure" this year.

“The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare and increasingly isolated in the United States. These are not just annual blips in statistics, but reflect a broad change in attitudes about capital punishment across the country,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC’s executive director.

The organization said that to date, 14 states and the federal government have imposed 49 new death sentences, marking a 33 percent drop from last year and “the lowest number since the early 1970's when the death penalty was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

This year, only six states went through with executions, the lowest number in 27 years, the report said. Most of those were clustered in Texas, with 13 executions, Missouri, with six and Georgia with five.

One county, Riverside, California, imposed 16 percent of all death sentences in 2015, the report said. That was in line with a trend that saw nearly two of three death sentences from “the same 2 percent of U.S. counties that are responsible for more than half of all death sentenced inmates nationwide.”

In total, executions in 2015 have declined 20 percent from last year’s total of 35.

The report also noted that six death row inmates were exonerated this year, bringing to 156 the number who have been exonerated since 1973.

DPIC also noted that two-thirds of the 28 people executed in the U.S. “exhibited symptoms of severe mental illness, intellectual disability, the debilitating effects of extreme trauma and abuse, or some combination of the three.”