Special Report

California is the State With the Most People on Death Row

There were 2,414 people on death row in the United States as of April 1, 2022. That figure has dropped every year for two decades. The state with the largest number of men and women on death row is California. It might be argued that this stands to reason as California is the most populous state, home to 12% of the U.S. population at 39 million people.

Still, California has far and away the largest death row population in the country, according to Death Row USA Spring 2022, a report by the Legal Defense Fund. The 690 people on death row in the state account for over 28% of the U.S. death row population. The state death row population is also more than double the number in Florida, the state with the second largest death row population. (Also see, America’s most dangerous states.)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in 2019 plans to dismantle the state’s death row. In the announcement, Newsom said, “The prospect of your ending up on death row has more to do with your wealth and race than it does your guilt or innocence.” Currently, 244 inmates on death row in the state are Black, accounting for 35% of the state’s death row population, the largest share. Another 226 inmates (or 33% of the state’s death row population) are white, 183 (or 26%) are Latino or Latina, 28 (or 4%) are Asian American, and nine are Native Americans.

Nationwide, even in states without a moratorium, not everyone who is on death row ends up being executed. Since 1973, 190 people have been exonerated and 1,548 have been executed. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “The death penalty in America is a flawed, expensive policy, defined by bias and error. It targets the most vulnerable people in our society and corrupts the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

Currently, only 27 states have the death penalty, down from 38 in the year 2000. The number of executions in states that have death penalties also differs, but has generally been declining. The state that has executed the most people by far since 1976 is Texas, with 574 executions. Oklahoma has the second-highest execution count with 116. These are the states where the most people have been executed in the United States.

The number of people on death row makes America an outlier worldwide. More than 70% of countries around the world have effectively abolished the death penalty, including all but one European nation. Particularly among developed, democratic countries, the United States, has unusually large numbers of people who have been sentenced to death and who have been executed over the past several decades.

These are states with the most people on death row.

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