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Death Row Inmates Spending More Time Waiting Behind Bars

Condemned inmates in the U.S. are spending more time on death row, NPR reports. "We're seeing death sentences near record lows. We're seeing executions at near record lows," said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center. "There are fewer and fewer people on death row overall and the ones who remain on death row have been there longer." The average time between sentencing and execution has increased by two-thirds in the past 20 years — from 11.4 years in 2000 to 18.9 years in 2020, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Experts attributed the trend to changed opinions on capital punishment and a lengthier appeals process that delay executions. For both victims' families and inmates, waiting decades to see their cases resolved takes its toll. Some experts say 20 to 40 years on death row at the literal expense of the state raises questions of fair treatment of prisoners. "Even in the states that execute regularly, the average age [of inmates] is eye popping," said Elizabeth Rapaport, professor emerita at the University of New Mexico School of Law. As of 2020, the average age of death row inmates nationally was 52. More than 56 percent were white, 41 percent were Black. Men made up 98 percent of those prisoners.


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