Monday numbers: New study on death penalty shows it’s expensive, racially disproportionate and unpopular

By: - June 21, 2021 5:55 am

The death penalty is more expensive and no more effective at deterring crimes than alternative punishments such as life imprisonment, according to a report by Appalachian State University professor of government and judicial studies Matthew Robinson.

In the report published earlier this month, Robinson examined data to answer the question of whether death penalty should still be maintained as a state policy. North Carolina has not executed a person on death row in nearly 15 years; however, it is still legal. Under state law, an individual can be sentenced to death if they are convicted of first-degree murder and found to meet at least one of 11 aggravating circumstances.

The report highlights the arbitrariness and disparities in the harshest sentence in North Carolina, which has resulted in innocent people dying because of wrongful convictions.

These findings, coupled with a new report from the U.S. DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics, show that North Carolina, a leading state in the number of people on death row, is facing consequences from maintaining the death penalty system.

Expensive, disproportionate and unpopular

136 — number of people on death row in June 2021

2006 — the last year North Carolina performed an execution 

23.5% — rate of death sentences identified as excessive, in a review of 361 cases that resulted in capital punishment from 1990 to 2010

44% — percentage of respondents in North Carolina favor the death penalty over the alternative of life without parole, according to a 2019 poll

$2 million — extra cost of each execution compared with other sentences

$11 million — cost that the state could have saved each year if it did not maintain death penalty. The state pays out large sums each year for defense cost, payment to jurors, post-conviction cost, resentencing hearings and payment to the prison system.

Racial disparities

54% — percentage of death row prisoners who are Black, whereas the group only comprised 22% of the state’s total population

47.3% — percentage of those convicted of killing white victims who were sentenced to death between 1977 and 2005

40.3% — percentage of those convicted of killing Black victims who were sentenced to death over the same time period

44% — percentage of the 1,272 jury decisions that led to death sentences between 1977 and 2005

45.8% — rate of white defendants to receive a death sentence among between 1977 and 2005

42.4% — rate of Black defendants to be sentenced to death during the same time period

14 times — likelihood of Black people who killed whites to be sentenced to death compared with whites who killed Black people between 1999 and 2006

North Carolina a leading state in death penalty population

 2,570 — number of people on death row in 29 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons

5th — North Carolina’s in terms of number of people on death row in 2019, after California (724), Florida (340), Texas (216) and Alabama (175)

41% — percentage of Black death row prisoners nationwide

56% — percentage of white death row prisoners nationwide

32 — states and the federal government that still authorize the death penalty in 2019

7 — states carried out death penalty execution in 2019. 

31 — number of people who received a death sentence in 2019 nationwide

3 — number of people who received the death sentence in North Carolina in 2019

Sources: The Death Penalty in North Carolina, 2021: A Summary of the Data and Scientific Studies, U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Yanqi Xu

Yanqi Xu, Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter, came to Policy Watch in December of 2020 from the Investigative Reporting Workshop in D.C., where she combined data and reporting to cover public accountability issues. Yanqi graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 2019. Her multimedia work appeared in PolitiFact and the Columbia Missourian, and was featured on the local NPR and NBC affiliates. Originally from China, Yanqi started her career producing newscasts to tell people what’s going on around the world.