The number of people on death row dropped to 289 this year, the lowest number since 1989, according to the yearly report (PDF) from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Texas’s death row population includes 10 women.
Only California and Florida have more people on death row, 726 and 405 respectively. But since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, California has executed only 13 people, fewer inmates than the fifteen that Texas executed this year. Florida has put 73 people to death since 1976, three of them in 2012.
Juries across Texas sentenced nine people (eight men and one woman) to death row in 2012, a slight uptick from last year (when they sentenced eight people to die). But, overall, the number of new death sentences has dropped 75 percent since 2002, when 37 people received death sentences.
“While new death sentences and executions remain near historical low levels in Texas,” the report states, “troubling questions persist regarding the arbitrary determination of who receives the ultimate punishment. This year, cases involving individuals with comparable backgrounds or who presented similar legal arguments received vastly different treatment by the criminal justice system. In addition, people of color remain disproportionately impacted by the death penalty: in the last five years, nearly 75 [percent] of all death sentences have been imposed on African-American or Hispanic defendants.”
Factors contributing to this drop include the legislature’s 2005 law creating a natural life sentence as well as the emergence of several high profile wrongful conviction cases in recent years.
The potential for the execution of innocent people, the report concludes, “continue[s] to cast doubt on the fairness and accuracy of the system.”