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Capital Punishment 1997


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 13, 1998             202/307-0784


     WASHINGTON, D.C.   Seventeen states executed
74 prisoners during 1997, the Justice Department's
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced
today.  Texas executed half of them--37.  Virginia
put 9 to death, Missouri 6,  Arkansas 4 and
Alabama 3, according to BJS' annual death penalty

     Those executed were all males: 45 whites, 27
blacks, 1 Asian and 1 American Indian.  Five were
Hispanics, who can be of any racial background.

     At the end of last year, 34 states and the
federal prison system held 3,335 men and women (44
females) on death row: 1,876 whites, 1,406 blacks,
28 American Indians, 17 Asians and 8 of other
races.  There were 283 Hispanic prisoners.  The
youngest capital punishment inmate was 18 years
old, the oldest was 82.  Two percent were 17 years
old or younger at the time of their arrest for the
capital offense.

     During 1997, 29 states and the Federal Bureau
of Prisons received 256 inmates under sentence of
death, a significant drop from the average 300
admissions per year since 1990.  Thirty-eight
states and the Federal government authorize
capital punishment.

     Eighteen states reported 76 inmates whose
death sentences were overturned in 1997. Appeals
courts vacated 38 sentences while affirming the
convictions and vacated  35 convictions and
sentences.  In addition, 3 death sentences were
commuted.  At the end of last year,  43 of these
inmates were serving a reduced sentence, 23 were
awaiting a new trial, 9 were awaiting re-
sentencing, and 1 was found not guilty in retrial.

     Nearly two-thirds of inmates under sentence
of death at the end of 1997 had previous felony
convictions, including 9 percent with at least one
prior homicide conviction.  Forty-two percent of
those on death row had an active criminal justice
status at the time of their capital offense: 20
percent were on parole, 10 percent on probation
and 1 percent on escape from a prison or jail.

     Of the 5,796 people under a death sentence
between 1977 and 1997, 8 percent were executed, 
3 percent died from other causes and 32 percent
received other dispositions, such as appellate
court decisions or commutations.  Among those
under sentence of death during this period, about
the same percentage of whites (8 percent), blacks
(7 percent) and Hispanics (6 percent) were

     Between 1930 and 1997, 4,291 men and women
were executed in the United States. Texas has put
the most to death (441), followed by Georgia
(388), New York (329), California (296), North
Carolina (271), Florida (209), South Carolina
(175), Ohio (172), Mississippi (158), Louisiana
(157), Pennsylvania (154), Alabama (151), Virginia
(138), Arkansas (134), Kentucky (104) and Illinois

     The report also noted that as of November 30,
1998, 18 states had put 58 prisoners to death. 
Texas carried out 17, about 30 percent of the
total.  Virginia had executed 12 inmates by 
xNovember 30--the most in that state since 1930,
when the federal government began tracking
executions on an annual basis.

     The bulletin, "Capital Punishment 1997" 
(NCJ-172881), was written by BJS statistician 
Tracy L. Snell.  Single copies may also be obtained 
from the BJS on-demand system by dialing 301/519-5550,
listening to the complete menu and selecting
document number 137. Or call the BJS Clearinghouse
number: 1-800-732-3277.  Fax orders for mail
delivery to 410/792-4358. The BJS Internet site

     Additional criminal justice materials can be
obtained from the Office of Justice Programs
homepage at:             

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After hours contact: Stu Smith at 301/983-9354
Date Published: December 13, 1998