By Katherine Coviello
AUSTIN, TX – Texas’ death row population and use of the death penalty was at a historic low in 2021 for reasons unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Over the past year, juries sentenced three people to death, three people were executed, and Texas’ death row population peaked lowest in 1985.
While COVID contributed to declines in 2020, it did not play a significant role in the decline in 2021.
According to the report, “Two key factors accounting for the decline are the low number of new death sentences imposed in recent years and the resolution of cases involving people who have been resentenced and removed from death row based on evidence of their intellectual disability, trial errors, or other issues reflecting the state’s legacy of injustice.”
However, post-conviction challenges to the death sentence were found to have “uneven – often wildly disparate – outcomes.”
These historic lows accompany a nationwide trend of declining executions and death.
Last year was the seventh consecutive year with fewer than 30 executions and 50 new death sentences.
In Texas, death sentences have remained in the single digits over that period.
Despite these declines, the death penalty disproportionately affects people of color. According to the U.S. Census, while 12.9% of Texans identify as black, they constitute 40% of death sentences in the state.
People of color accounted for two-thirds, or the majority, of death sentences.
“The persistent problems with Texas’s death penalty as chronicled in this report should compel concerned citizens and elected officials to confront the realities of capital punishment and examine the efficacy and cost of executions as a means of achieving justice,” the report states.
Public opinion fails to support the death penalty as well.
75% of those surveyed, when asked what punishment they preferred for first-degree murder, favored a life sentence, while only 14% of all respondents preferred the death penalty.
Across party lines and political ideologies, most people were found to be concerned about the risk of executing innocent people.
The report goes on to conclude, “As Texas moves away from the death penalty, what remains is an arbitrary, unfair, and biased punishment that puts innocent lives at risk, disproportionately impacts Black defendants and those with intellectual disability, and refuses to recognize the humanity of those condemned by society.”