WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Death sentences fell sharply in 2011, the first time in more than 30 years that fewer than 100 convicted U.S. felons were sent to death row, a report indicated.
The Death Penalty Information Center report, released Thursday, indicated 78 offenders were handed death sentences and only 43 inmates were executed -- about half as many as 10 years ago.
The annual number of death sentences began declining after 1998, the report said. In the 1990s there were close to 300 death sentences annually, but since then the number fell steadily as the risks of executing the innocent grew more apparent and life without parole sentences became more common.
The center said death sentences declined in every region of the country.
The report said 74 percent of the executions were in the South, which was similar to other years.
The report also noted America's abstract support for the death penalty was at its lowest level in nearly 40 years in a recent Gallup poll. Only 61 percent of participants said they supported the death penalty, compared with 80 percent in 1994. Thirty-five percent said they opposed the death penalty, compared with 16 percent in 1994.
The center also cited a lessening of support in a CNN poll in which respondents could choose between capital punishment and a sentence of life without parole for those who commit murder. Fifty percent chose a life sentence, while 48 percent chose death, which the Death Penalty Information Center said reflected its findings in a 2010 poll.