How our country handles rising crime is a highly contested issue. Our prison system locks up more people than any other country. What’s more, the jury’s still hung on whether incarceration rates do anything to combat the violence. America is not the only country who uses the death penalty as a means of sentencing, but we sure do execute a lot of criminals.
Oklahoma and Utah allow the use of a firing squad, but most states view lethal injection as the most humane execution route. This consists of a sedative followed by pancuronium bromide to paralyze the inmate, then potassium chloride to stop the heart.
The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) maintains an ongoing database of state-by-state executions. According to their data, America has executed 1,465 inmates since 1976, 16 of whom were women. States can’t seem to make up their mind regarding the death penalty, but 31 states consider it a legal means of condemnation as of now.
Here are the top 15 states that have executed the most people since 1976. You won’t believe the running tally held by the No. 1 state.
- Total executions: 20
Indiana kicks off our list of 15 states with a total of 20 executions since 1976. Among the most notable was the domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted in the Oklahoma City bombing and executed for his crimes in 2001.
Next: A state that once used the electric chair to execute criminals
- Total executions: 21
Mississippi once used the electric chair as a means of execution before lethal injection was deemed more humane. But the state sought to bring back alternative execution methods in 2017 due to a shortage of lethal injections available for use. It has executed 21 criminals since 1976, but hasn’t done so since 2012, when six criminals were executed.
Next: Automatic penalties were once a thing in this state
- Total executions: 28
Louisiana once slapped automatic death penalties for crimes that involved murders of police officers. But a 1977 court case overturned such laws. The southern state has upheld 28 executions since 1976. It has administered just three since the year 2000.
Next: A state that hopes to tackle high crime
- Total executions: 31
Arkansas has executed 31 people via the death penalty since 1976, including four in 2017. To publicly condemn crime, former president Bill Clinton halted his 1992 presidential campaign to oversee Ricky Ray Rector’s execution. Rector had been convicted of murdering a police officer.
Next: This state is re-examining its execution protocol
- Total executions: 37
Recent changes have been made to Arizona’s death penalty protocol after complaints surfaced claiming inmates suffered too long during executions. Judges have since put restrictions on the drugs used for lethal injections and prisoner rights, per a Reuters report. Thirty-seven people have been executed in Arizona since 1976.
Next: There’s a shortage of lethal drugs in this state
10. South Carolina
- Total executions: 43
Like many states, South Carolina is facing a shortage of lethal drugs needed to execute its prisoners as manufacturers are hesitant to provide the drugs and associate themselves with executions. Nevertheless, South Carolina has executed 43 people since 1976. The most recent execution was in 2011.
Next: This state is making some bold moves regarding the death penalty
9. North Carolina
- Total executions: 43
North Carolina has executed 43 people in total, but it has also pioneered a few programs that protect inmate rights. The Indigent Services Commission and Innocence Inquiry Commission are initiatives that review hundreds of sentences and provide increased defense counsel for those on trial. Both programs are the first of their kind in the nation, according to DPIC.
Next: Three mishandled executions in this state
- Total executions: 55
Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1974, but the majority of its 55 executions have come since 1999. Though the state has three botched executions on its record, legislators passed a reform bill to address wrongful convictions called the DNA Access Bill in 2010. This bill allows inmates to receive DNA testing for their alleged crimes.
Next: A long history of the death penalty
- Total executions: 61
Alabama law allows judges to override jury sentencing recommendations, particularly life sentencing votes. Still, Alabama ranks as the state with the seventh-most executions in the country. Its 61 executions have been spread out consistently, with only a handful of years going by without an execution.
Next: It’s been a busy few years in this next state
- Total executions: 70
Georgia is one of many southern states on this list that have executed a staggering number of prisoners. Electrocution was deemed unconstitutional in 2001 and the state began using lethal injection as its primary method of execution. Seventy people have been executed since 1976, with nine of them occurring in 2016 alone.
Next: A state that’s not afraid to use the death penalty
- Total executions: 88
Missouri has executed a shocking 88 people since 1976, including a 10 people in 2014. But this elevated number only allows Missouri to crack the top five on the list of state-by-state executions. It remains one of the most active death penalty states in the country in recent years, second to only the No.1 state we’ll see later.
Next: This state has the most exonerations, too
- Total executions: 95
Aileen Wuornos was dubbed the first female serial killer by the media during coverage of her arrest. She was executed in Florida in 2002 for the murder of six people and her story was later depicted in the film Monster. Though Florida has executed 95 people, the has also had 27 exonerations — more than any other state.
Next: More than 100 executions in this southern state
- Total executions: 112
Oklahoma has executed 112 people via the death penalty since 1976, and still only ranks third overall on this list. Like Mississippi, Oklahoma has been forced to fall back on alternative execution methods thanks to a shortage of lethal injection drugs. Like Mississippi, Oklahoma also offers a choice between firing squads and gas chambers.
Next: A state with multiple notorious executions
- Total executions: 113
Virginia once conducted five inmate executions in one day, according to the DPIC. It was also the first to commit an execution back in 1608, when Captain George Kendall was executed in the Jamestown colony after spying for Spain.
One half of the DC Sniper duo, John Allen Muhammad, was also executed in 2002 after being charged with a series of shootings that killed 10 people in the Washington D.C. area. The other, Lee Boyd Malvo, is being resentenced after a judge ruled he was unaware of his rights as a juvenile.
Next: The No. 1 state on the list isn’t what’s shocking. The number is.
- Total executions: 545
Texas frequently executes inmates in the double-digits each year, according to DPIC records. Since 1976, it has executed an unimaginable 545 people. No other state even comes close to this record. Harris County, Texas, is responsible for 116 of the executions since 1982, suggesting some counties are stricter than others. Of Texas’ 254 counties, 136 have never sent a single person to death row.
Follow Lauren Hamer on Twitter @la_hamer.
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