Special Report

States With Most People on Death Row

More than 70% of countries around the world have effectively abolished the death penalty, including all but one European nation. The United States, however, is an outlier, particularly among developed, democratic countries, and across the country, there are more than 2,000 people on death row. 

Under the Biden administration, the federal government has had a standing moratorium on carrying out death sentences since July 1, 2021. This followed a period where executions at the federal level surged during the Trump administration.

State governments can form their own laws regarding capital punishment, and at the state level, death sentences and executions have become less common in recent years. Among the 27 states where the death penalty remains legal, its use is limited for those convicted of the most horrific crimes, such as a multiple homicide, murder of a police officer, or murder of a child. (Here is a look at the states where the most murders are committed with a gun.)

Using data from Death Row U.S.A. Spring 2022, a report by the Legal Defense Fund, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 27 states and two jurisdictions – the federal government and the military – with the most people on death row. Unless otherwise noted, death row populations are current as of April 1, 2022, and can include convicts awaiting a retrial, resentencing, or finalization of a court-ordered reversal. The federal government, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and California have a moratorium prohibiting executions.

It is important to note that Wyoming has a death penalty statute but no persons sentenced to death. It is therefore not listed. Meanwhile, New Hampshire, which repealed the death penalty for future crimes, still has a prisoner on death row for a crime committed before the repeal. New Hampshire is on the list.

Death sentences are typically handed down by a jury, and due in part to a lengthy appeals process and a shortage of lethal injection drugs, inmates often spend years or decades on death row before sentencing is carried out. 

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that opposition to capital punishment among Americans is often attributed to a belief that the death penalty is not applied in a racially neutral way. Indeed, in most of the highest ranking states on this list, Black inmates make up the largest share of the death row population. 

The vast majority of death row inmates in the United States are men, though there are also a few women on death row in some states. (Here is a look at the most brutal female criminals in history.)

Click here to see states with most people on death row.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

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