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 TrumpPapadopoulos claims he was pressured to sign plea deal Tlaib asking colleagues to support impeachment investigation resolution Trump rips 'Mainstream Media': 'They truly are the Enemy of the People' 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Senate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Senate gears up for Green New Deal vote 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