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.


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 exacerbates 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.

News & Developments


Jun 27, 2024

Discussions with DPIC Podcast: Attorney Jessica Sutton on the Unique Challenges of LGBTQ+ Capital Defendants

In this month’s episode of Discussions with DPIC, Managing Director Anne Holsinger speaks with Jessica Sutton, prin­ci­pal attor­ney with Phillips Black, a non­prof­it pub­lic inter­est law firm focused cap­i­tal defense. Ms. Sutton has rep­re­sent­ed clients fac­ing the death penal­ty in more than a dozen juris­dic­tions across the U.S. and at all stages of pro­ceed­ings. In recog­ni­tion of Pride month, Ms. Sutton dis­cuss­es the unique chal­lenges LGBTQ+ peo­ple face in the cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment sys­tem and…

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Feb 15, 2024

Discussions with DPIC Podcast: Shedding Light on Underreported Stories of Incarceration and Death Row — conversation with Keri Blakinger

In this month’s episode of Discussions with DPIC, Managing Director Anne Holsinger speaks with Keri Blakinger, a jour­nal­ist at the Los Angeles Times and for­mer reporter for the Marshall Project — a non­prof­it news orga­ni­za­tion focused on the U.S. crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. At the Marshall Project, Ms. Blakinger wrote sto­ries about the human beings in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem — a focus that is still a pri­or­i­ty in her report­ing with the Los…

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Jan 09, 2024

Federally Death-Sentenced Prisoners Allege that New Conditions of Confinement Contributed to Recent Prisoner Death

According to state­ments from sev­er­al fed­er­al death row pris­on­ers, the new adverse con­di­tions” on death row in Terre Haute, Indiana, con­tributed to the December 1, 2023 death of Nasih Khalil Ra’id. Fellow pris­on­ers say Mr. Ra’id, whose giv­en name at birth was Odell Corley, died by sui­cide. Prison offi­cials have not released the report from Mr. Ra’id’s autop­sy or com­ment­ed on the cause of his…

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Oct 05, 2023

World Psychiatric Association Releases Report Opposing the Death Penalty for People with Mental Illness or Development and Intellectual Disabilities

In July 2023, the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) released its report and posi­tion state­ment on men­tal health and the death penal­ty. The issues addressed in the report include: the impo­si­tion of the death penal­ty on pris­on­ers with men­tal ill­ness or devel­op­men­tal and intel­lec­tu­al dis­abil­i­ties, the over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of death-sen­tenced pris­on­ers who have been socioe­co­nom­i­cal­ly mar­gin­al­ized, and the role of psy­chi­a­trists in death penalty…

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Sep 05, 2023

Sole Woman on Tennessee Death Row, Age 18 at Time of Crime, Raises New Appeal Based on Youthfulness

Attorneys for Christa Pike, the only woman on Tennessee’s death row, filed a motion on August 30 to re-open her appeals based on a recent deci­sion from the Tennessee Supreme Court. In 2022, the Court ruled in State v. Booker that manda­to­ry life sen­tences in homi­cide cas­es are uncon­sti­tu­tion­al when imposed on juve­niles, draw­ing on U.S. Supreme Court prece­dent that held that juve­niles are less mature, more vul­ner­a­ble to peer pres­sure, and gen­er­al­ly less cul­pa­ble than adults. Ms. Pike’s…

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