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24 hour timeline of death row prisoners' final day before facing execution

24 hour timeline of death row prisoners' final day before facing execution

Death row inmates are able to count the minutes until their last breath

The vast majority of people have no idea when their lives will come to an end, but prisoners on death row are able to count down by the day.

After years or even decades spent behind bars awaiting execution, the beginning of the end typically starts 24 hours before the inmates' death.

Death row inmates often spend years awaiting death.

The night before

The exact timeline varies depending on location, but it usually begins with the prisoner being moved from their cell to the place of execution, which is known hauntingly as the 'death house'.

Before the carefully planned relocation, officers search the prisoner for weapons or anything the inmate could potentially use to take their own life.

Once at the location of execution, the prisoner sees daylight for the last time as they're taken from the car to the building, where they're placed in a cell close to the execution chamber.

Inmates are watched closely throughout the night to ensure they do not try to end their own life.

Inmates are closely guarded before execution.

The morning of execution

Prisoners are given an early wake up call on their last day on Earth, often being awoken at around 4am.

They're then given the chance to speak with any loved ones for the last time, and have a conversation with the chaplain ahead of their death.

As dawn turns into day, visitors are banned from seeing the prisoner and the only people inmates are allowed to speak with are the chaplain and guards.

Meanwhile, staff in the execution chamber will test the equipment to ensure everything is working as it should, while also keeping an ear out for any updates in the prisoner's case which may delay the execution.


A few hours after they're woken up, the prisoner is given simple prison food to keep them going until their final meal.

After lunch, any prisoners executed by the electric chair may have their heads shaved so the electrical current can pass through their body.

Prisoners can speak with loved ones on their last day.

Afternoon preparations

After spending years in regular prison uniforms, death row inmates are given a new uniform when it comes time for their execution.

The uniforms are typically smarter than normal prison clothes, and must be put on after a shower.

Final Meal

A well-known aspect of executions is the final meal, but it's not a late-evening dinner that prisoners consume on their last day. Instead, the meal takes place in the afternoon, and consists of whatever the prisoner has asked for, within a given budget.

As the prisoner eats, witnesses planning to watch the execution gather at the facility and make their way to the witness chamber.

Arriving at the chamber

Executions are often carried out in early evening, when the prisoner makes the short walk from their cell to the execution chamber while surrounded by guards.

If the prisoner is set to die by lethal injection, this is prepared approximately 15 minutes before the time of death.

Final minutes

In the prisoner's final minutes, the curtain to the witness chamber is opened and the inmate can deliver their final statements, if local rules allow.

Then, the method of execution is carried out.

Featured Image Credit: Mark Jenkinson / Alamy Stock Photo / south carolina dept. of corrections

Topics: Crime