Death row, also known as condemned row, is a place in a prison that houses inmates awaiting execution after being convicted of a capital crime and sentenced to death. The term is also used figuratively to describe the state of awaiting execution ("being on death row"), even in places where no special facility or separate unit for condemned inmates exists. In the United States, after an individual is found guilty of a capital offense in states where execution is a legal penalty, the judge will give the jury the option of imposing a death sentence or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It is then up to the jury to decide whether to give the death sentence; this usually has to be a unanimous decision. If the jury agrees on death, the defendant will remain on death row during appeal and habeas corpus procedures, which may continue for several decades.

Opponents of capital punishment claim that a prisoner's isolation and uncertainty over their fate constitute a form of psychological abuse and that especially long-time death row inmates are prone to develop a mental disorder, if they do not already suffer from such a condition. This is referred to as the death row phenomenon. Estimates reveal that five to ten percent of all inmates on death row suffer from mental illness.[1] Some inmates may attempt suicide. There have been some calls for a ban on the imposition of the death penalty for inmates with mental illness[2] and also case law such as Atkins v. Virginia to further this. Executions still take place for those with clear intellectual disabilities due to poor legal representation and high standards of proof.[3]


In 1933, Giuseppe Zangara attempted to kill then President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt but injured and killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. He was convicted of Cermak's murder and sentenced to death. Due to Florida law, an inmate could not be housed in a cell with an inmate who was awaiting execution so a prisoner awaiting execution was to be held in a separate waiting cell. Raiford Prison, where Zangara was being held, already had one prisoner waiting in their "death cell" so the waiting area was expanded to a row of cells, becoming a "Death Row".[4]

United States

United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute houses the male death row prisoners sentenced by the U.S. federal government
Allan B. Polunsky Unit houses the male death row prisoners sentenced by the U.S. state of Texas
Louisiana State Penitentiary, which houses the male death row prisoners sentenced by the State of Louisiana
The Mississippi State Penitentiary, which houses male death row prisoners sentenced by the State of Mississippi
Oklahoma State Penitentiary, which houses male death row prisoners sentenced by the state of Oklahoma

In the United States, prisoners may wait many years before execution can be carried out due to the complex and time-consuming appeals procedures mandated in the jurisdiction. The time between sentencing and execution has increased relatively steadily between 1977 and 2010, including a 21% jump between 1989 and 1990 and a similar jump between 2008 and 2009. In 2010, a death row inmate waited an average of 178 months (roughly 15 years) between sentencing and execution.[5] Nearly a quarter of inmates on death row in the U.S. die of natural causes while awaiting execution.[6]

There were 2,721 people on death row in the United States on October 1, 2018.[7] Since 1977, the states of Texas (464), Virginia (108) and Oklahoma (94) have executed the most death row inmates.[5] As of 2010, California (683), Florida (390), Texas (330) and Pennsylvania (218) housed more than half of all inmates pending on death row. Gary Alvord arrived on Florida's death row in 1974 and died 39 years later on May 19, 2013, from a brain tumor, having spent more time on death row than any American.[8] Brandon Astor Jones spent 36 years on death row (with a brief period in the general prison population during his re-sentencing trial) before being executed for felony murder by the state of Georgia in 2016, at the age of 72.[9] The oldest prisoner on death row in the United States was Leroy Nash, age 94, in Arizona. He died of natural causes on February 12, 2010.[10]

Death row locations

See also: Capital punishment in the United States

Federal Men's death row Women's death row
Civilian Majority: United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, Indiana

ADX Florence, Fremont County, Colorado (Timothy McVeigh, Joseph Edward Duncan, Kaboni Savage, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev)

MCFP Springfield, Missouri[11] (Marvin Charles Gabrion)

Federal Medical Center, Carswell, Fort Worth, Texas[12][13][14]
Military United States Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar, San Diego, California[A]
State Men's death row Women's death row
Alabama Holman Correctional Facility, Atmore[15] and William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, Bessemer[16] Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, Wetumpka[17]
Arizona Arizona State Prison Complex - Eyman, Florence, Arizona and Arizona State Prison Complex – Florence, Florence, Arizona[18] Arizona State Prison Complex - Perryville, Goodyear[18]
Arkansas Varner Unit, Varner[19] McPherson Unit, Newport[20]
California San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin and Corcoran State Prison, Corcoran[21] Central California Women's Facility, Chowchilla[21]
Florida Union Correctional Institution, Union County and Florida State Prison, Bradford County[22] Lowell Correctional Institution Annex, Marion County[22]
Georgia Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Butts County[23] Arrendale State Prison, Habersham County[24]
Idaho Idaho Maximum Security Institution, Kuna Pocatello Women's Correctional Center, Pocatello
Indiana Indiana State Prison, Michigan City Indiana Women's Prison, Indianapolis
Kansas El Dorado Correctional Facility, El Dorado Topeka Correctional Facility, Topeka
Kentucky Kentucky State Penitentiary, Eddyville[25] Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women, Shelby County[26]
Louisiana Louisiana State Penitentiary, West Feliciana Parish[27] Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, St. Gabriel[28]
Mississippi Mississippi State Penitentiary, Sunflower County[29] Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, Rankin County[29]
Missouri Potosi Correctional Center, Washington County[30] Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, Vandalia[citation needed]
Montana Montana State Prison, Deer Lodge Montana Women's Prison, Billings
Nebraska Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, Tecumseh Nebraska Correctional Center for Women, York
Nevada Ely State Prison, Ely[31] Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center, North Las Vegas[32]
New Hampshire New Hampshire State Prison for Men, Concord New Hampshire State Prison for Women, Goffstown
New Mexico Penitentiary of New Mexico, Santa Fe County Northwest New Mexico Correctional Facility, Grants
North Carolina Central Prison, Raleigh[33] North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, Raleigh[33]
Ohio Chillicothe Correctional Institution, Ross County;[34] Ohio State Penitentiary, Youngstown;[34] and Franklin Medical Center, Columbus[34] Ohio Reformatory for Women, Marysville[34]
Oklahoma Oklahoma State Penitentiary, McAlester Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, McLoud, Oklahoma
Oregon Oregon State Penitentiary, Salem[35] Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Wilsonville[35]
Pennsylvania SCI-Greene, Franklin Township
and SCI-Phoenix, Skippack Township[36]
SCI-Muncy, Clinton Township[36]
South Carolina Broad River Correctional Institution, Columbia[37] Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution, Columbia[38]
South Dakota South Dakota State Penitentiary, Sioux Falls South Dakota Women's Prison, Pierre
Tennessee Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, Nashville[39] Tennessee Prison for Women, Nashville[39]
Texas Polunsky Unit, West Livingston and Jester IV Unit, Fort Bend[40][41] Mountain View Unit, Gatesville[41]
Utah Utah State Correctional Facility, Salt Lake City Central Utah Correctional Facility, Gunnison
Wyoming Wyoming State Penitentiary, Rawlins Wyoming Women's Center, Lusk


  1. ^ Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar is the only facility in the United States Department of Defense designated to house female Level III inmates.

European criticism of death row

Nearly all European countries have abolished capital punishment.[42] As of 2021, Belarus remains the only European country to use the death penalty.[43]

Around 70% of the world's countries have abolished capital punishment.[44] These countries are frequently concerned with their citizens in the United States criminal system.[44] There have even been instances of other countries citing human rights laws against the United States, or refusing to extradite incriminating material, in fear of their citizens being put on death row.[44]

On November 9, 2020, the United States received persistent criticism on its use of capital punishment during a United Nations review of its human rights record.[45] Many allies of the United States urged that the U.S. cease executions.[45] France urged the US halt executions, Germany suggested a federal moratorium on and eventual abolition, Austria called for immediate cessation of executions and then abolition, and Australia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland all called for abolition entirely.[45]

Other countries

According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran were responsible for most known executions worldwide in 2020 (the organization notes their report does not include the thousands of executions it believes occur in China, where capital punishment data is classified as a state secret).[46] When the United Kingdom had capital punishment, there were generally no 'death rows'. The condemned were however separated from the general prison population in one of two 'condemned cells' located adjacent to the execution chamber. Sentenced inmates were given one appeal. If that appeal was found to involve an important point of law it was taken up to the House of Lords, and if the appeal was successful, at that point the sentence was changed to life imprisonment.[47] The Home Secretary had the power to exercise the Sovereign's royal prerogative of mercy to grant a reprieve on execution and change the sentence to life imprisonment. Essentially the speedy process from conviction to execution, re-sentencing or reprieve meant that there were low numbers, (if any) prisoners under sentence of death at any one time and so there was no need for a 'death row'. Assistant executioner Syd Dernley used the term "death row" in his 1990 memoir The Hangman's Tale to refer to the situation at Wandsworth Prison in April 1951 where, as only up to two persons could be hanged at one time, the execution of murderer James Virrels had to await the prior double execution of murderers/robbers Joseph Brown and Edward Smith a day earlier, before going ahead on 26 April.[48]

In some Caribbean countries that still authorize execution, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the ultimate court of appeals. It has upheld appeals by prisoners who have spent several years under sentence of death, stating that it does not desire to see the death row phenomenon emerge in countries under its jurisdiction.[citation needed]

Condemn cells

A condemn cell, also known as a death row cell, is a designated room within a prison where individuals who have been sentenced to death as a legal punishment are held until their execution. This specialized cell is a temporary holding area specifically designed for individuals awaiting capital punishment.[49][50][51]

A special condemn cell at Cellular Jail, Port Blair, India.

Condemn cells are constructed with a focus on security and isolation. The room is typically designed to limit access and maintain strict control over the condemned individual. Furnishings and amenities in these cells are often minimal, as they are not intended for long-term incarceration but rather for the purpose of facilitating the impending execution. Typically, a condemn cell can house between one and three inmates.[52]


Bangladesh has witnessed significant controversy surrounding the use of condemn cells in relation to capital punishment. The issue has sparked debates on various aspects, including human rights, the efficacy of the death penalty, and the treatment of individuals awaiting execution.[53][54] Several Bangladeshi prisons house inmates on trial in condemn cells, which is met with severe criticism.[55] There have been instances where acquitted people have been confined in condemn cells, for multiple years.[56][57][58]

See also


  1. ^ J. Wilson, Richard (2016). "The Death Penalty and Mental Illness in International Human Rights Law: Toward Abolition". Washington and Lee Law Review. 73 (3): 1470. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  2. ^ "Mental Illness". Death Penalty Information Centre. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  3. ^ "Intellectual Disability". Death Penalty Information Centre. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  4. ^ Oliver, Willard; Marion, Nancy (2010). Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders in Chief. Westport, California: Praeger Publishing. p. 96. ISBN 978-0313364747. OCLC 733346450.
  5. ^ a b "Department of Justice: Capital Punishment, 2010 Figures". Journalist's 4 January 2012.
  6. ^ "United States Department of Justice". Archived from the original on 2007-08-21. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
  7. ^ "DEATH PENALTY INFORMATION CENTER : Facts about the Death Penalty" (PDF). Retrieved March 2, 2022.
  8. ^ "A man too crazy to be executed". Tampa Bay Times.
  9. ^ "Facing Execution at 72, Georgia's Oldest Death Row Inmate Exposes Death Penalty's Racist Roots". 31 January 2016.
  10. ^ "BBC News - Oldest US death row inmate dies aged 94". 14 February 2010. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  11. ^ "Special Confinement Unit Opens at USP Terre Haute Archived 2010-12-03 at the Wayback Machine." Federal Bureau of Prisons. July 13, 1999. Retrieved on October 3, 2010.
  12. ^ Marshall, John. "Lisa Montgomery gets death penalty for killing pregnant woman Archived 2013-11-05 at the Wayback Machine." Associated Press at the Southeast Missourian. Friday April 4, 2008. Retrieved on October 3, 2010. "Department of Justice spokesman Don Ledford said Montgomery will likely be sent to the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, a women's correctional facility that has medical services for inmates."
  13. ^ "Lisa M Montgomery Archived 2013-10-10 at the Wayback Machine." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on October 3, 2010.
  14. ^ "Angela Johnson Archived 2013-10-10 at the Wayback Machine." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on October 14, 2010.
  15. ^ "Annual Report Fiscal Year 2003." Alabama Department of Corrections. 33/84. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "which also included a cellblock for 20 death row inmates."
  16. ^ "Annual Report Fiscal Year 2003." Alabama Department of Corrections. 21/84. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "Donaldson has a death row unit with a capacity of 24 inmates."
  17. ^ "Annual Report Fiscal Year 2003." Alabama Department of Corrections. 45/84. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "Tutwiler also has a death row,"
  18. ^ a b "Death Row Information." Arizona Department of Corrections. Retrieved on March 16, 2023.
  19. ^ "State Capitol Week in Review." State of Arkansas. June 13, 2008. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "Executions are carried out in the Cummins Unit, which is adjacent to Varner."
  20. ^ Haddigan, Michael. "They Kill Women, Don't They?" Arkansas Times. April 9, 1999. Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  21. ^ a b "History of Capital Punishment in California Archived July 24, 2010, at the Wayback Machine." California Department of Corrections. Retrieved on August 16, 2010. "All male prisoners on condemned status are housed at a maximum-security custody level in three units at San Quentin State Prison. Females are housed in a maximum-security unit at Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla."
  22. ^ a b "Death Row." Florida Department of Corrections. Retrieved on December 30, 2020.
  23. ^ "Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison Archived 2010-04-23 at the Wayback Machine." Georgia Department of Corrections. Retrieved on July 18, 2010.
  24. ^ "Inmates Under Death Sentence January 1, 2012 Changes to UDS Population During 2011." (Archive) Georgia Department of Corrections. Retrieved on November 18, 2012.
  25. ^ Barrouquere, Brett. "Inmate challenges sedatives used in lethal injections Wilson also claims state doesn't provide enough information to inmates." The Harlan Daily Enterprise. November 24, 2007. Retrieved on September 8, 2010.
  26. ^ "Kentucky State Penitentiary Prepares For 165th Execution." WLKY. Retrieved on September 8, 2010.
  27. ^ "Life After Death Row." CBS News. April 25, 2010. Retrieved on August 16, 2010. "Rideau was sent to Louisiana's Angola Prison, where he spent a decade waiting to be executed."
  28. ^ "Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women Archived 2010-09-24 at the Wayback Machine." Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Retrieved on August 16, 2010.
  29. ^ a b "Division of Institutions State Prisons Archived 2002-12-06 at the Wayback Machine." Mississippi Department of Corrections. April 21, 2010. Retrieved on May 21, 2010.
  30. ^ Lombardi, George, Richard D. Sluder, and Donald Wallace. "The Management of Death-Sentenced Inmates: Issues, Realities, and Innovative Strategies Archived 2010-05-27 at the Wayback Machine." Missouri Department of Corrections. 8-9. Retrieved on September 18, 2010.
  31. ^ "Organization." Nevada Department of Corrections. Retrieved on September 5, 2010.
  32. ^ "Lone woman on Nevada's death row dies in prison ." Associated Press at North County Times. January 31, 2005. Retrieved on September 5, 2010.
  33. ^ a b "Death Row and Death Watch Archived 2003-12-20 at the Wayback Machine." North Carolina Department of Correction. Retrieved on September 1, 2010.
  34. ^ a b c d "CCI death row receives final inmates Archived 2015-07-14 at the Wayback Machine." Chillicothe Gazette. Retrieved on February 2, 2012.
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  37. ^ "Death Row/Capital Punishment Archived 2010-10-07 at the Wayback Machine." South Carolina Department of Corrections. Retrieved on July 8, 2018.
  38. ^ "Graham (Camille Griffin) Correctional Institution Archived 2010-10-13 at the Wayback Machine." South Carolina Department of Corrections. Retrieved on August 17, 2010. "The institution also functions as a major special management unit with the ability to house female death row inmates and county safekeepers."
  39. ^ a b "Death Row Facts." Tennessee Department of Correction. Retrieved on October 25, 2023.
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  41. ^ a b "Death Row Facts Archived August 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
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  43. ^ "Belarus: The secret executions in Europe's 'last dictatorship'". BBC News. 2018-05-14. Retrieved 2022-02-07.
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  45. ^ a b c "US capital punishment criticised by UN Human Rights Council during human rights review". Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved 2020-11-19.
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  48. ^ Dernley & Newman The Hangman's Tale: Memoirs of a Public Executioner, Trans-Atlantic Publications, 1990 ISBN 0-330-31633-8 (page 151)
  49. ^ condemned-cell noun – Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes | Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary at
  50. ^ Condemn cell | Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary
  51. ^ Condemned cell definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary (
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  54. ^ "Living death in condemn cells". Retrieved 2023-07-05.
  55. ^ Staff Correspondent (2022-04-06). "Why inmates on trial in condemned cell". The Daily Star. Retrieved 2023-07-05.
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  58. ^ sun, daily. "HC orders judicial inquiry into Ctg man's 7 years in condemn cell despite acquittal | Daily Sun |". Daily Sun. Retrieved 2023-07-05.