Fewer prison inmates were moved to death row in 2005, according to a federal study that shows one more person was executed than in the year before.
Four states - California, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania - held half of the 3,254 inmates awaiting execution at the end of 2005, the study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed. There were 37 death row inmates in federal prisons at that time.
Sixteen states executed 60 prisoners last year, one more inmate than in 2004
Overall, however, the number of inmates on death row on Dec. 31, 2005, or the number of inmates moved there during the year dipped.
Among the findings by the Justice Department agency:
- 128 inmates were moved to death row in 2005, the third consecutive year with a decline in yearlong totals. It was the lowest number of prisoners put on death row since 1973.
- Sixty-six fewer inmates were on death row at the end of 2005 than in 2004. That was a decrease for the fifth straight year and about a 10 percent drop since Dec. 31, 2000, when there were 3,601 death row prisoners nationwide.
Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of Amnesty International USA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, said the drop in part reflects the public's squeamishness in approving executions for people who ultimately may be found innocent.
Since 1973, when watchdog groups began keeping track, 123 death row inmates have been cleared of crimes that had earned them death sentences.
Juries "don't want to be culpable for possibly putting an innocent person to death," Gunawardena-Vaughn said.
Moreover, because of lengthy trials and inevitable years of appeals in capital murder cases, the death penalty is expensive and "dilutes very, very crucial resources - many of which could be put toward more policing or mental health programs," she said.
As of the beginning of this month, 52 inmates have been executed so far in 2006, according to data provided by Washington's Death Penalty Information Center.
Thirty-eight states and the federal government allow juries to consider the death penalty in the most heinous criminal cases. All states except Nebraska allow lethal injection in executions. Inmates in Nebraska and eight other states can be electrocuted. Additionally, three states allow death by hanging, another three by firing squad and four by lethal gas.
At the end of last year, 56 percent of death row inmates were white and 42 percent were black, the Justice Department study reported. Women accounted for 2 percent of those people facing execution.