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US resumes use of the death penalty - where and why is it used?

The death penalty, a somewhat controversial topic, has recently been in the news due to the US attorney general William Barr's decision to reinstate its federal use in the US. In the UK, Priti Patel, who has a history of supporting the death penalty, has been made Home Secretary in Boris Johnson's new Cabinet.

The death penalty has not been used on the federal level in the US since 2003, and before that only two other times since it was made legal in 1988. There will be five people who are on death row that are currently planned to be executed according to Barr, all guilty of various gruesome murders, and with "additional executions will be scheduled at a later date."

This announcement revives the debate surrounding the death penalty both in the US and in countries across the world. In the United States, the opinion of the death penalty tends to lean in favor, with 21 states and the District of Columbia banning the death penalty and it being legal in the remaining 29 states. Additionally, according to a Pew study published last year, support for the death penalty sits at 54 percent for and 39 percent against, with a slight uptick in support from the year before, though still at a relative low compared to 20 years ago. Support splits along party lines with 77 percent of Republicans supporting it versus 35 percent of Democrats, and 52 percent for independents.

Worldwide the death penalty is legal in around 53 different countries like China, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, with almost a thousand being carried out in 2017, though that number is probably higher considering the deaths that don't get reported in places like China. All the countries in Europe except for Belarus have abolished the death penalty for a variety of reasons. The UK banned it for most crimes in 1969 and all crimes in 1998 after public backlash surrounding a few high profile death sentences.

Proponents of the death penalty see it as a way to deter criminals by making the sentence for committing certain crimes come at too great a price, along with some crimes being to heinous to let the accused live. This is apparent in Barr's statement on capital punishment in the US, as the five men being sentenced to death have murdered children and the elderly in a gruesome fashion. 

On the flip side, many people convicted of crimes are later exonerated due to new evidence or witness testimony, which has happened on several occasions. The fact that many people could be wrongly executed by the state is a problem that wouldn't exist if the death penalty was not around, something opponents of capital punishment point to as a reason for its removal.

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