U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Death-Row Prisoners, 1981

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 1982
Publication Series
This report describes the U.S. Supreme Court decisions and subsequent State law changes that have resulted in the increase to 838 in the number of inmates sentenced to death by the end of 1981.

In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in Furman vs. Georgia that the death penalty had often been used arbitrarily and capriciously. This decision resulted in the removal from death row of all 600 inmates then sentenced to death. Since then, States have revised their laws to adapt to Supreme Court guidelines resulting from this decision and other decisions. The laws require the death penalty either for certain crimes or for certain circumstances. As a result of these law changes, the number of prisoners added to death row each year has been much greater than the number removed. At the end of 1981, 36 States had the death penalty. In most States, an appeal from the death penalty is automatic. The number of executions is likely to increase greatly in the coming years because many inmates are exhausting the appeal process and relatively few executions have taken place to date, due largely to the unofficial 10-year moratorium on executions between 1967 and 1977. At the end of 1981, blacks accounted for 41 percent of the death row population. Eleven women and 47 Hispanics were on death row. All except two death row inmates have been convicted of homicide; two Florida inmates were convicted of sexual battery of a female child age 11 or under. A figure, a data table, a methodological note, and four suggested readings are supplied.

Date Published: July 1, 1982