More men and women are on death row awaiting execution than at any time since a national count was begun in 1930.
There are 760 prisoners who have been sentenced to death being held in 30 of the 36 states that have the death penalty as of June 30, 1981, according to the Legal Education and Defense Fund in New York. This is more than the 714 death-row prisoners in the same 30 states who were officially counted by the Justice Department as of Dec. 31, 1980.
In 1971, just before the Supreme Court ordered the states to review their capital punishment laws, 643 prisoners were on death row.
Nine women are on death row, another record. Eight of the nine women are white, spotlighting another new trend in these grisly statistics. Whites now outnumber blacks on death row by a 3-to-2 count; as recently as 1976, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks outnumbered whites.
More blacks used to be on death row because many of them received the death penalty in the South for raping white women. Rape is no longer a capital offense.
Eight of the nine women are in prisons in the South, and all are in for murder. For example, two poisoned their husbands, one poisoned an ex-husband. One was a hitch-hiker who helped her boyfriend strangle the two men who picked them up. One woman in Texas was convicted with her boyfriend of murdering a family of five that included her ex-boyfriend and his two-year-old child.
About three-fourths of the 714 death-row prisoners tabulated by the Justice Department are in southern prisons, with three southern states accounting for 52 percent.
Florida leads with 153 prisoners, Texas with 139 and Georgia 80. California and Alabama have 44 each, Arizona has 34, Illinois 32, and Oklahoma 30.
"There's a reason for this, these three states were the first to modify their death-penalty statutes when the Supreme Court ordered the states to review them in 1972," said Carol Kalish, who compiled and analyzed the numbers for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. "So they were the first three states to begin sentencing people to death since the Supreme Court review order."
Twenty-five states imposed the death penalty on 187 prisoners last year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics said, a 14 percent increase over 1979. Forty-eight prisoners were relieved of the death penalty last year, the lowest in 10 years and one reason for the record number on death row now.
"Most cases in which prisoners were relieved of the death penalty in the last decade occurred because the statute under which they were sentenced was found to be unconstitutional," the Bureau of Justice Statistics said. "The small number of cases in 1980 indicates that most states are now sentencing under statutes specifically written to comply with Supreme Court standards of constitutionality."
Florida imposed the largest number of new death sentences, 29, last year, followed by Texas 26, California 24, Illinois 16, Arizona 12 and Georgia with nine. Florida granted the most dispositions, 11, relieving prisoners of their death penalties, followed by Georgia nine, California five, and Alabama, Texas and Utah with four each.
The Supreme Court decision that ordered the constitutional review of death-penalty statutes in 1972 was the Furman decision, which held that many state laws as they were then written were "capricious and arbitrary" and therefore constituted "cruel and unusual" punishment.
The Furman decision freed the 643 prisoners on death row but in the following year prisoners began once again to be sentenced to death.
There have been four executions in the United States since the Furman decision, one this year of Steven T. Judy in Indiana. Gary Mark Gilmore was executed in Utah, Jesse Walter Bishop in Nevada and John Arthur Spenkelink in Florida, all for murder.
All but one of the prisoners now on death row are there for murder. The exception is of a man in Florida convicted of sexual battery of a female under 12 years of age.