Death penalty hits new low in 2011

by Mary Mahling and Maggie Clark, Stateline

2011 has been a notable year for the death penalty: Fewer people have been sentenced to die than in any year since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Last month, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber placed a moratorium on executions in his state. He also stayed the pending execution of Gary Haugen, who would have been the first Oregonian put to death for a crime in 14 years. Next door, Idaho moved in the opposite direction, executing its first prisoner in 17 years. Many states that have the death penalty use it infrequently, if ever. Richard Dieter, head of the Death Penalty Information Center, says these states keep the ultimate punishment around, rather than abolishing it outright, for a reason: They can imagine a crime horrible enough that they’d want the sentence available. is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that reports and analyzes trends in state policy.