Maryland’s Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley will soon sign legislation passed by the state’s Senate and House of Delegates that will make it the 18th state to abolish the death penalty.
On Monday’s NOW with Alex Wagner, the panel discussed the current debate surrounding capital punishment, which has largely focused on issues of cost.
A 2008 study by The urban Institute found that in Maryland, cases where the death penalty was pursued by prosecutors ended up costing taxpayers three times as much as cases seeking life without the possibility of parole.
The number of Americans supporting the death penalty, while still a majority, has also been in decline. According to Gallup, 63% of American support the death penalty, while 32% are opposed. However, support for capital punishment has declined markedly from a high of 80% in 1994.
The waning support has played itself out on the state level as five states–Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York–have all abolished capital punishment in the last six years.
O’Malley, who is widely believed to be considering a presidential bid in 2016, has played up his opposition to capital punishment as one of his signature accomplishments.
“For years Democratic governors for president felt like they had to play the tough guy around the death penalty,” said The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson, “but clearly Martin O’Malley has made a different calculus.”
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, a private, non-profit which works on criminal justice issues, for every nine people executed in the U.S., one innocent person has been exonerated. The same organization notes that over the past 40 years. the jail and prison population in the U.S. has risen from 200,000 to 2.3 million.
“It’s interesting to see issues like gay marriage and the death penalty, in a short period of time, play big roles in presidential politics–Michael Dukakis in 1988 and gay marriage in Ohio in 2004–and then how in a short period of time how much the culture of those issues change,” said MSNBC contributor and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Texas leads the way when it comes to executions. Since 1976, the Lone Star state has executed 493 people, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, four times more than No. 2 on the list–Virginia with 110.