The United States is one of the few developed countries that has not discontinued capital punishment and it is estimated that over four percent of incarcerated individuals on death row were wrongly convicted. Although 22 states have discontinued capital punishment, the practice is still used, especially in southern states. This may soon change however as Virginia is slated to become the first southern state to abolish the death penalty.
The Senate bill to abolish capital punishment passed 57-43 earlier this week which sends it to Governor Ralph Northam to be signed into law. Northam has said he plans to sign the bill which would make Virginia the 23rd state to end the death penalty.
There are currently only two incarcerated individuals on death row in the state, but historically, since 1973, over 156 people have been released from death row after being found not guilty in appeals trials. The advancement of DNA evidence technology has been responsible for many exonerations and highlighted the flaws in capital punishment systems.
Opponents of the bill argued that abolishing the death penalty denies justice for the families of victims of violent crime, but the rate of innocence among death row inmates, as well as the substantially higher cost of death row compared to life in prison, has prompted many to advocate for abolition even before considering the moral arguments behind the issue. To learn more about capital punishment and the case for abolition, we encourage you to explore this resource from the ACLU.