The Facts Behind Death Row: Statistics and Data

Despite claims that it deters murder, the death penalty does not work. One hundred thirty-eight people have been released from death row over the past 40 years because of wrongful convictions due to shoddy police work, jailhouse snitches, and junk science.

Flagrant racial bias also persists in death penalty cases. At all earlier stages of the process, U.S. Attorney’s offices show no hint of discrimination against racial minorities.

Death Row Inmates Are Counted Every Hour

At the end of 2019, 2,570 death row inmates were in the United States. They are housed in a particular prison area called a death row area or death row prison, which is separated from the rest of the prison. They have been locked alone in their cells for most of their time, eating in their enclosure on trays inserted through a slot in their door.

Death row offenders may receive one weekly visit from two visitors in a small booth. They also have access to an exercise area where they can walk, jog or play basketball for an hour each day, and officers escort them from their cellblock pods to the dining halls for their daily meal.

The death penalty is currently authorized in 27 states and the federal government, but executions are rare. In addition, 13 states and the military have imposed formal moratoriums on executions. The ACLU’s reports on conditions on death row information have shown that most prisoners spend years isolated from others, deprived of social contact and mental health care.

Inmates Are Segregated

Death row offenders live in solitary confinement except for one hour of daily exercise and access to shower facilities. They are provided with meals in their cells; however, they may be transferred to more restrictive housing units if they violate prison rules.

While death row is considered highly secure, the conditions of isolation have come under intense scrutiny due to their adverse psychological effects. Prisoners have been shown to experience anxiety, depression, and withdrawal from extended periods in solitary confinement.

Studies show that when inmates are integrated into the general prison population, they have better behavioral records and are less likely to engage in violence. For example, violence has decreased since North Carolina integrated its death row inmates into the general population more than 30 years ago.

Inmates Are Counted Once a Day

Inmates are counted in the cellblock where they live. They each have a dayroom where they sleep, eat, and watch television, with a sergeant and corrections officer stationed there. Cells are arranged side by side and open to the dayroom. Each has a bed, lavatory, commode, wall-mounted writing desk, a 13″ television, and a radio. Two days a week, officers escort offender groups to an outdoor exercise area for walks or on-unit recreation.

Several commenters pointed out that counting prisoners at their facility rather than at their home addresses distorts Census data and hurts communities of color. They argue that this practice is contrary to the spirit of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution’s commitment to “one person, one vote.”

The Census Bureau works closely with state governments. It recognizes that some states have decided to re-assign prisoner population counts back to the pre-incarceration addresses of the prisoners for legislative redistricting and other purposes. The Bureau plans to offer a product that allows states to do this following the 2020 Census.

Inmates Are Counted Once a Week

Generally, prisoners awaiting execution remain confined on death row for many years, often decades, while their legal appeals go through the judicial system. For example, Anthony Graves spent 22 hours a day locked alone in a cell on Texas’ death row for the murder of a Fort Worth auto mechanic for over a decade before his execution was finally approved.

Despite the long wait, most death row offenders receive one visit each week with up to two people and can watch church services on closed-circuit television. They also have radios and 13-inch televisions in their cells.

Most Americans favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, but opinions vary by party and education level. For instance, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more likely than Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults to support the death penalty (77% vs. 46%).

Majorities of white, Hispanic, and Asian adults also support the death penalty, while black adults are divided. In addition, a more significant percentage of those with less formal education favor the death penalty than those with a college degree or higher.

Inmates Are Counted Once a Month

As of 2019, were 2,570 people incarcerated on death row in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, the number of new death sentences is steadily decreasing. In the past two decades, prosecutors have only sought the death penalty for 31 of the 259 cases that were filed.

Death row inmates are confined until they are counted, usually at noon. During the day, they can leave their cell for on-unit recreation, walks, and showers. They may also keep a small amount of personal property in their cells and can receive mail from the outside world.

For more than a decade, voting rights advocates have pressed the Census Bureau to change its practice of counting prisoners as residents of their current prisons rather than their former communities. This skews census numbers and distorts electoral representation.