PoliceOne Staff Report (WASHINGTON) -- The rate at which prisoners have been put to death this year has dropped 14 percent, a sign many experts believe that indicates the criminal justice system is growing more cautious about carrying out the death penalty.
Fourteen fewer prisoners have been put to death this year, down from the 98 executed last year; and 28 fewer prisoner were sentenced to death last year than the average for the previous five years, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report released Dec. 10.
"I think what we are starting to see is a new hesitancy and skepticism on the part of jurors in giving out the death penalty, and a new, more cautious rhetoric by politicians," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center told The New York Times. The center is a leading source of criticism of capital punishment.
There are other signs that the death penalty is loosing some of its appeal.
A Gallup Poll showed that support of capital punishment dropped from 80 percent in 1984 to 66 percent last year.
On Dec. 7, President Clinton stayed the execution of Juan Raul Garza, the first federal prisoner to be put to death since the 1960's. It will be up to the next president to decide whether or not Garza, who confessed to murder, should be put to death.
Texas leads the states with the most executions. The Lone Star state accounted for 40 of the 84 prisoners put to death, a record number of executions in any state in the nation's history, according to the report.
The Justice Department report shows that certain states may be more willing to put prisoners to death for capital crimes.
Almost two-thirds of all executions since accurate records have been kept took place in southern states: Texas, with 199; Virginia, 73; Florida, 44; Louisiana, 25; and South Carolina, 24. Missouri has executed 41 prisoners.