Pennsylvania began carrying out executions in the early 1600’s in the form of public hangings. In 1834, Pennsylvania became the first state in the U.S. to outlaw public executions and move the gallows to county prisons. In 1913, the state’s capital punishment statute was amended to bring executions under the administration of the state rather than individual counties, and also changed the method of execution to electrocution. Between 1915 and 1962, there were 350 executions in Pennsylvania, including two women. The last inmate executed by means of the electric chair was in 1962. Pennsylvania passed a law in 1990 that once again changed the method of execution from electrocution to lethal injection, the current means of execution. Prior to 1976, Pennsylvania carried out 1,040 executions, the third highest number of any state.
In Commonwealth v. Bradley (1972), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled the death penalty sentencing procedures unconstitutional. Death row was emptied and sentences were commuted to life. In 1974, overriding Governor Shapp’s veto, the legislature reenacted the death penalty, but this law was also found unconstitutional in 1977. In 1978, a revised version of the death penalty statute was passed, reinstating the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Only three executions have actually been carried out since reinstatement in 1974, despite the state’s death row being the fourth largest in the nation.
For more information and ways to get involved, contact your state's organizations:
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. There are 10 Catholic dioceses in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Eight are Latin Rite dioceses, fully contained within the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to ending executions in Pennsylvania. Through grass roots outreach, focused campaigns and citizen mobilization we have defined a comprehensive strategy to end the death penalty in Pennsylvania.