Former public defender: Death penalty states are most in need of criminal justice reform

States with high rates of capital punishment are the ones most in need of criminal justice reform, former public defender Robert Dunham said Friday during an interview on “Rising.”

“Overproducers of death are a red flag for where criminal justice reforms are necessary,” Dunham, who is now the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told Hill.TV’s Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton. “We’ve seen a whole range of problems but they’re the the same problems that we see in the criminal justice system as a whole."

Since 1977, Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma have executed the most death-row inmates. California has the largest population of death-row inmates but has not had an execution since 2016.

Overall, capital punishment is on the decline in the U.S. Executions and death sentences have been near historic lows in 2018, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which found that there have been 25 executions and 42 death sentences this year.

That marks the fourth consecutive year there were fewer than 30 executions.

Dunham attributed the decline to more public awareness when it comes to different sentencing options.

“In many states in the 1990s, juries thought that you got sentenced to life, you’d be back on the street,” he said. “That’s not the case anymore.”

He attributed the drop in death row inmates to the increasing use of DNA testing to verify whether a defendant was innocent or guilty, as well as criminal justice reform legislation like the Innocence Protection Act, which created a post-conviction testing process.

“I think that those individual stories became more and more powerful,” Dunham said.

Criminal justice reform has been one of the few bipartisan issues during the Trump administration.

Backed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I will deliver State of the Union 'when the shutdown is over' Former NYPD commander claims Trump got special treatment for gun licenses Colbert starts petition for Cardi B to give State of the Union rebuttal MORE, criminal justice reform legislation is making its way through Congress.

After being stalled in the Senate for months, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAir travel union leaders warn of 'unprecedented' safety risks as shutdown continues On The Money: Shutdown Day 33 | Fight over State of the Union | Pelosi tells Trump no speech on Tuesday | Trump teases 'alternative' address | Trump adviser warns shutdown could hurt growth | Mulvaney seeks list of vulnerable programs Demonstrators protesting shutdown arrested outside McConnell's office MORE has agreed to bring the bipartisan legislation to the Senate floor for a vote.

The measure is aimed at reducing the number of people in prison and is seen as one of the first steps toward overhauling the criminal justice system.

—Tess Bonn