Dec. 15 (UPI) -- The number of people sentenced to death or executed this year was near historically low levels, according the Death Penalty Information Center.
An annual report released by the organization, which tracks the death penalty, said public support for the death penalty is at its lowest level in 45 years.
In 2017, four death-row prisoners were exonerated. There were also half as many executions this year (23) than there were seven years ago, making 2017 the year with the second-lowest total since 1991. In 2016, 20 executions were carried out, according to the report.
By the end of this year, the number of new death sentences is expected to reach 39, making this year the second lowest annual total since the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972, which was later reauthorized.
Robert Dunham, DPIC's executive director, said changes in Harris County, Texas, more than anywhere else, are symbolic of the long-term change in United States capital punishment.
"For the first time since 1974, the county that has carried out more executions than any other did not execute any prisoner or sentence any defendant to death," Dunham said. "Across the political spectrum, more people are coming to the view that there are better ways to keep us safe than executing a handful of offenders selected from a random death-penalty lottery."
Dunham said at times the numbers fluctuated but the steady long-term decline in the death penalty since the 1990s suggests that "in most of the country, the death penalty is becoming obsolete."
The report states in 2017, 81 executions were scheduled but 58 of them, more than - more than 70 percent, were never carried out. Most of the executions carried out took place in four states: Texas (7); Arkansas (4); Florida (3); and Alabama (3).
Despite Texas' numbers, the state stayed seven other executions by using new laws that permit prisoners to obtain judicial review of false or misleading evidence.