Study Reveals Geographic Disparities in Death Sentencing Among Alabama Counties


The Equal Justice Initiative examined death sentences imposed in Alabama counties since 1978 and found surprising differences between counties in the rate of sentencing people to death.

Houston County has the highest per capita death sentencing rate in the state. Only 2% of Alabama’s citizens live in Houston County, but 8% of the current death row population was condemned in a Houston County courtroom. Houston County (pop. 95,660) has sent sixteen times more people to death row than Lee County (pop. 125,781). Indeed, Houston County has more people under sentence of death than the states of Maryland, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado combined (pop. 14,565,258).

The death sentencing rate in Houston County has increased dramatically in recent years. In the period from 1995 to 2008, sixteen people were sentenced to death in Houston County — a 1600% increase over the previous two decades.

Talladega County closely follows Houston County with the second highest per capita death sentencing rate in Alabama. With only 1.7% of the total state population, Talladega County (pop. 80,000) accounts for 6.4% of the total death row population. Talladega County is the fifteenth-largest county in the state, but is tied with much more populous Montgomery County for the third-highest number of people on death row.

More than half of Alabama’s current 200 death row inmates come from just seven counties: Jefferson (40); Houston (16); Talladega (13); Montgomery (13); Mobile (12); Madison (9); and Baldwin (8). Twenty-three Alabama counties, with over 12% of the total state population, have no one on death row.