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Sluggish economy means hard times for US executioners

Public questions 'measurable returns' from death penalty

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Economic turmoil has wreaked havoc on the US execution industry, latest figures show, with the total number of prisoners put to death well down on last year.

The Death Penalty Information Centre's annual report showed 49 executions were carried out across the US last year, a 12 per cent drop compared to 2009. Even more dramatic, the number of executions was 50 per cent lower than in 1999.

At the same time, there were 114 inmates added to death row, compared to 112 last year, and 234 in 2000.

The DPIC, a non-profit tracking the US' execution rates, said the fall was partly down to a shift in public attitudes towards the death penalty. It notes that in the most recent elections a number of of "candidates who questioned the death penalty" were elected, including governors of California, Maryland and Kansas.

However, a less punitive attitude is only part of the story, the centre suggests, with the cost and logistics of snuffing convicts also a factor.

A nationwide shortage of the drugs used in lethal injections was part of the problem, with executions postponed or cancelled in a number of states.

At the same time, many states are apparently questioning the "measurable returns" from killing prisoners, with the "millions" it costs to prosecute each capital offense seeming like bad value when police departments are having their budgets cut.

Meanwhile, voters apparently put imposing the death penalty last on their list of priorities for state spending. Rather, they would prefer money to go to emergency services, job creation, crime prevention, schools, even roads and transportation. Who knows, investment in some of those areas might even go some way to preventing some capital crimes being committed in the first place. ®

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