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Capital Punishment in the United States Resource Guide

About Capital Punishment in the United States

Capital Punishment in the United States provides annual data on prisoners under a sentence of death, as well as those who had their sentences commuted or vacated and prisoners who were executed. This study examines basic sociodemographic classifications including age, sex, race and ethnicity, marital status at time of imprisonment, level of education, and State and region of incarceration. Criminal history information includes prior felony convictions and prior convictions for criminal homicide and the legal status at the time of the capital offense. Additional information is provided on those inmates removed from death row by yearend.

The dataset provides information on inmates whose death sentences were removed in addition to information on those inmates who were executed. The file also gives information about inmates who received a second death sentence by yearend as well as inmates who were already on death row.

Using the Resource Guide

The National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD), a part of the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan, designed this Resource Guide for World Wide Web users to learn about the Capital Punishment dataset and to connect to other capital punishment information sources.

With this guide, first time users or experienced analysts can:

Capital Punishment Data

This series of studies contains a descriptive analysis of confinement facilities and state-operated community-based correctional facilities nationwide. The census included prisons; prison farms; reception, diagnostic, and classification centers; road camps; forestry and conservation camps; youthful offender facilities (except in California); vocational training facilities; and correctional drug and alcohol treatment facilities. Variables include physical security, age of facilities, functions of facilities, programs, inmate work assignments, staff employment, facilities under court order/consent decree for conditions of confinement, capital and operating expenditures, custody level of residents/inmates, one-day and average daily population counts, race/ethnicity of inmates, inmate work assignments, in-mate deaths, special inmate counts, and assaults and incidents by inmates. The institution is the unit of analysis.

File Structure

Capital Punishment in the United States, 1973 through the present is available from the ICPSR in logical record length (lrecl) format. SPSS and SAS data definition statements are provided, giving the format and other information for each variable in the lrecl data file. The lrecl data file is constructed with a single logical record for each case.

Methodological Information

Capital punishment information is collected annually as part of the National Prisoner Statistics program (NPS-8). This data series is collected in two parts: data on persons under sentence of death are obtained from the department of correction in each jurisdiction currently authorizing capital punishment and are updated annually; information on the status of death penalty statutes is obtained from the Office of the Attorney General in each of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the Federal Government. Data collection forms and more detailed tables are available in Correctional Populations in the United States, published annually. NPS-8 covers all persons under sentence of death at any time during the year who were held in a State or Federal nonmilitary correctional facility. Included are capital offenders transferred from prison to mental hospitals and those who may have escaped from custody. Excluded are persons whose death sentences have been overturned by the court, regardless of their current incarceration status.

The statistics reported in this Bulletin may differ from data collected by other organizations for a variety of reasons: (1) NPS-8 adds inmates to the number under sentence of death not at sentencing but at the time they are admitted to a State or Federal correctional facility. (2) If in one year inmates entered prison under a death sentence or were reported as being relieved of a death sentence but the court had acted in the previous year, the counts are adjusted to reflect the dates of court decisions. (3) NPS counts are always for the last day of the calendar year and will differ from counts for more recent periods.

Sample Code

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN THE UNITED STATES records the movement of prisoners onto and off of death row starting in 1973. In order to examine particular cases (individuals) it is necessary to correctly specify the selection criteria. In addition, for certain analyses it is necessary to sort the data file before making selections.

Some individuals are included in the data file more than once. Typically this occurs when someone has been sentenced to death, subsequently had his sentence overturned, and then again sentenced to death. These people have the same identification number in the data set. In order to avoid double counting, BJS tables include only the latest death sentence. The issue of double counting arises most often when the flow of prisoners onto and off of death row is being analyzed.

Below are three examples, using SPSS syntax, of working with CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN THE UNITED STATES. The first example provides a brief description of the status of the death penalty at year end. The second and third examples detail the flow of prisoners onto and off of death row by year and by state respectively.

EXAMPLE 1

* STATUS OF THE DEATH PENALTY, DECEMBER 31, 1999.
* The output produced by this example corresponds to page 1
* of Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin - Capital Punishment 1999.

* Get the capital punishment system file that you created using
* the ASCII data file and SPSS data definition statements
* available from the NACJD website.

GET FILE = "D:\CapPun\cp1999.sav".

* Select REASON FOR REMOVAL FROM DEATH SENTENCE (V31) equal to
* executed and DATE REMOVED FROM DEATH SENTENCE - YEAR (V33)
* equal to 1999.

SELECT IF ( V31 = 1 AND V33 = 1999 ).

* Count executions by state during 1999.

FREQUENCIES VARIABLES = V7.

GET FILE = "D:\CapPun\cp1999.sav".

* Select if inmate STILL ON DEATH ROW DECEMBER 31, 1999 (V27).

SELECT IF ( V27 = 1 ).

* Count prisoners under sentence of death by state and race.

FREQUENCIES VARIABLES = V7 V9.

EXAMPLE 2

* PRISONERS SENTENCED TO DEATH AND THE OUTCOME SENTENCE,
* BY YEAR OF SENTENCING, 1973-99.
* The output produced by this example corresponds to
* Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin - Capital Punishment 1999,
* Appendix Table 1.

* Get the capital punishment system file that you created using
* the ASCII data file and SPSS data definition statements
* available from the NACJD website.

GET FILE = "D:\CapPun\cp1999.sav".

* Sort cases by:
* INMATE ID (V6 ascending),
* YEAR REMOVED FROM DEATH SENTENCE (V33 descending),
* MONTH REMOVED FROM DEATH SENTENCE (V32 descending),
* SENTENCE DATE FOR CAPITAL OFFENSE - YEAR (V26 descending),
* SENTENCE DATE FOR CAPITAL OFFENSE - MONTH (V25 descending).
*.

SORT CASES BY V6 (A) V33 (D) V32 (D) V26 (D) V25 (D).

* Set a flag variable to be "on".

COMPUTE FLAG = 1.

* Turn flag variable "off" if inmate is in the data more than once.
* The most recent inmate record is still "on".

IF ( LAG(V6) = V6 ) FLAG = 0.

* Select sentencing dates of 1973 forward and the most recent
* inmate record.

SELECT IF ( V26 >= 1973 AND FLAG = 1).
* Crosstabulate YEAR OF SENTENCE (V26) by
* REASON FOR REMOVAL FROM DEATH SENTENCE (V31).

CROSSTABS V26 BY V31.

EXAMPLE 3

* NUMBER SENTENCED TO DEATH AND NUMBER OF REMOVALS, BY JURISDICTION
* AND REASON FOR REMOVAL, 1973-99.
* The output produced by this example corresponds to
* Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin - Capital Punishment 1999,
* Appendix Table 3.

* Get the capital punishment system file that you created using
* the ASCII data file and SPSS data definition statements
* available from the NACJD website.

GET FILE = "D:\CapPun\cp1999.sav".

* Sort cases by:
* INMATE ID (V6 ascending),
* YEAR REMOVED FROM DEATH SENTENCE (V33 descending),
* MONTH REMOVED FROM DEATH SENTENCE (V32 descending),
* SENTENCE DATE FOR CAPITAL OFFENSE - YEAR (V26 descending),
* SENTENCE DATE FOR CAPITAL OFFENSE - MONTH (V25 descending).
*.

SORT CASES BY V6 (A) V33 (D) V32 (D) V26 (D) V25 (D).

* Set a flag variable to be "on".

COMPUTE FLAG = 1.

* Turn flag variable "off" if inmate is in the data more than once.
* The most recent inmate record is still "on".

IF ( LAG(V6) = V6 ) FLAG = 0.

* Select sentencing dates of 1973 forward and the most recent
* inmate record.

SELECT IF ( V26 >= 1973 AND FLAG = 1).

* Combine codes in variable - REASON FOR REMOVAL FROM DEATH SENTENCE (V31)
* Capital sentence unconstitutional (3)
* Conviction affirmed, sentence overturned (5)
* Conviction/sentence overturned (6)
* and change value label to reflect combined value.

RECODE V31 (3,5,6 = 3).
ADD VALUE LABELS
V31 3 "Sent/conv overturned"
9 "Still death sent"
.

* Crosstabulate STATE (V7) by
* REASON FOR REMOVAL FROM DEATH SENTENCE (V31).

CROSSTABS V7 BY V31.

Other Capital Punishment Resources

Web Sites

Capital Punishment section of Key Facts at a Glance - Trends in the number of executions and of persons under sentence of death
http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=18#key_facts

Bureau of Justice Statistics: Capital Punishment Statistics
http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=18

Federal Bureau of Prisons, National Institute of Corrections
http://www.bop.gov/

National Criminal Justice Reference Service
http://www.ncjrs.gov/

Texas Department of Criminal Justice: Death Row Statistics
http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/statistics/stats-home.htm

Publications

The link below will search the ICPSR citations database for citations of publications containing the phrase "capital punishment." Users can create their own searches or browse the citations database through our Publications Bibliography.

Search for Capital Punishment Publications