Death Row

Conditions on Death Row

Death-row prisoners are typically incarcerated in solitary confinement, subject to much more deprivation and harsher conditions than other prisoners. As a result, many experience declining mental health.

Overview

As the time between sentencing and execution in the U.S. has lengthened from a few years to decades, the conditions of confinement for death row inmates have come under closer scrutiny. Some Supreme Court Justices have raised constitutional concerns about the physical and psychological effects of being held for extensive time in solitary confinement, separate from challenges to the death penalty itself. Many legal experts in the U.S. and elsewhere have concluded that this prolonged isolation is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, comparable to torture.

Many death row inmates suffer from mental illness, and the isolation on death row often acerbates their condition. Older inmates also suffer from increasing physical disabilities, rendering their ultimate execution a particularly demeaning action.

At Issue

The issue of extensive time on death row presents a dilemma: If death penalty appeals are rushed through the system, it might lessen the time spent on death row, but more innocent people will be executed and grave injustices will remain undiscovered. A thorough review of each case, with an openness to retrial upon the emergence of new evidence, has the side effect of keeping inmates in degrading conditions for twenty years or more. This inherent tension alone could lead to the end of the death penalty.

What DPIC Offers

DPIC provides summaries of the conditions and rules governing inmates on death row in each state. It also tracks the amount of time that inmates spend under these conditions. Finally, DPIC collects the important court decisions related to this issue.

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