The U.S. Makes It on a List of the World's Biggest Executioners

April 6th 2016

The United States is one of the world leaders in executions, according to data released by Amnesty International on Wednesday.

In 2015, a year where global use of the death penalty was the highest since 1989, the U.S. officially executed 28 people, trailing only China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for the highest number of executions in the world.

injection roomWikimedia commons - wikimedia.org

Here's some context behind those numbers.

Tracking use of the death penalty across the globe is exceptionally difficult, so it's not clear how the United States' 28 executions really compares to the rest of the world.

For example, for the second year in a row, Amnesty International places China atop its list of executioners, but states "the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is considered a state secret."

What is clear, though, is the the United States' use of the death penalty dwarfs most Western countries.

Countries in black show where the death penalty is still legal.

Map showing where death penalty is still legal Amnesty International - amnesty.org

Of the few countries in the Americas where the death penalty is still legal, the United States was the only one to actually use it in 2015.

Globally, Amnesty notes that Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia comprised 90 percent of 2015's officially tracked executions, with 977, 326, and 158 respectively.

Attitudes toward the death penalty are changing in America.

Gallup polls show that there has been a dramatic shift in American attitudes about the death penalty since the 1990s, when 80 percent of Americans supported it. In 2015, 61 percent of Americans said they supported it.

ATTN: reported that one reason support for the death penalty in the U.S is declining is the financial cost. In January, Republican state Sen. Stephen Urquhart from Utah petitioned to get rid of the death penalty in that state because each case costs Utah taxpayers $1.7 million. However, the bill did not go through and Utah still has the death penalty.

Prison BarsFlickr/Tim (Timothy) Pearce - flickr.com

Another possible reason support for the death penalty is declining among Americans is that many people feel it's not fair. Gallup polls show that Black Americans are the least likely to support executions, and it may be because Black people are sent to death row at disproportionately high rates, compared to other groups.

Here's how Gallup lays out the disparity:

"A large gulf exists between whites and blacks in their support for the death penalty. In a combined 2014-2015 sample, 68% of whites said they were in favor of the death penalty, while 29% were opposed. Blacks tilt almost as heavily in the opposite direction -- 55% oppose the death penalty, compared with 39% in favor. This pattern is in alignment with previous Gallup findings, including in 2007. The opposition among blacks may be related to the disparity between blacks making up 42% of the current death row population but just 13% of the overall U.S. population."- Gallup

Prison BunksAP/Spencer Weiner - apimages.com

There's also concern about wrongful convictions and executions of prisoners. ATTN: reported that the number of exonerations for all crimes has tripled since 1989, largely due to advancements DNA technology. However, criminal justice reform advocates say achieving full certainty in death penalty convictions is still impossible.

“This is such an unknown area; we don’t know how many wrongful convictions there are, we only know what we find,” Maurice Possley, a senior researcher at the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School, told ATTN last year. “And the only ones we really know about in terms of wrongful convictions are the ones that end in exoneration. I’m sure there are more wrongful convictions that don’t end in exoneration for various reasons.”

RELATED: The Surprising Financial Equation of Killing Prisoners

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