Human Rights Maps (126): Layout of Execution Rooms

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capital punishment / data / horror / human rights images / human rights maps / law / photography and journalism

This post isn’t about maps in the geographical sense, as is normally the case in this blog series about human rights maps. Still, I think it’s interesting to have a look at the topography of the death penalty, given that few among us actually know a lot about the actual practice of an execution (it’s not done in public anymore, at least not in most parts of the world).

Some are reconsidering the death penalty because of the costs involved, but not California. Here’s an image from Ari Kohen’s blog:

new execution room in San Quentin


How nice of them to separate the two families. Let’s just hope that they won’t think that having a bigger room means having to use it more often.

An interesting setup is this one from Japan:



(source, source)

This is the execution room in the Tokyo Detention House. Notice the three buttons in the second picture, placed on the wall in a room adjacent to the actual execution room. The setup is designed in such a way that the executioner doesn’t have to come face-to-face with the convict. Moreover, the three buttons have to be pressed simultaneously by three officers, but only one button actually opens the trapdoor (red square on the floor, below the hook in the ceiling). None of the officers is told which button is the live one that will cause the prisoner’s death.

The red square on the white floor marks the spot in the windowless room where convicts stand with the noose around their neck, before a trapdoor opens below them and they plunge to their deaths. The noose is hung from the hook in the ceiling just above the trapdoor. I suppose the rings in the wall and floor are for restraining the prisoner temporarily.

Below is a floor plan of the execution room in the prison at Terre Haute, Indiana:

execution room in the prison at Terre Haute, Indiana

execution room in the prison at Terre Haute, Indiana

(source, source)

If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the viewing rooms have toilet facilities. I’m sure there’s a good reason for that.

Below is the hanging room in the Washington State Penitentiary (also called the Walla Walla State Penitentiary):

the hanging room in the Washington State Penitentiary (also called the Walla Walla State Penitentiary)


The curious thing here is that the viewing area seems to be positioned at a height that makes it possible to see the face of the convict after the drop. That’s not something I understand, or want to understand.

Between 1991 and 1998, Lucinda Devlin photographed in different penitentiaries in the U.S. She called the resulting series The Omega Suites, alluding to the final letter of the Greek alphabet as a metaphor for the finality of execution. The series includes numerous photographs of execution chambers. Here are a few:

Electric Chair, Greenhaven Correctional Facility, Greenhaven, New York, 1991

Electric Chair, Greenhaven Correctional Facility, Greenhaven, New York, 1991

Notice the air filter just above the chair. I imagine the rubber on the floor is there to protect the executioners. The same room viewed from the executioner’s booth (notice the large switch):

Executioner's Room, Greenhaven Correctional Facility, Greenhaven, New York, 1991

Executioner's Room, Greenhaven Correctional Facility, Greenhaven, New York, 1991


Some more from the same series:

gallows at the smyrna delaware prison

gallows at the Smyrna, Delaware prison

gas chamber in baltimore maryland

gas chamber in Baltimore, Maryland


There’s also this innovative approach in China.

More about capital punishment is here. More maps about capital punishment are here. More human rights maps in general are here.


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  2. Pingback: The wrong men on Death Row – A growing number of bad convictions challenges the death penalty’s fairness « PORTABLE LIFE SKILLS DAILY WISDOM GUIDE

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  4. Leroy says

    You left out Virginia, which has perhaps the most stunning photo in the Omega Suites series!

  5. Leroy says

    Here is a photograph of the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia circa 1991. This was taken by Lucinda Devlin as part of the Omega Suites book.

    The all white walls and white floor, remind me of some discotechques in Europe. The clock on the wall is subtle but easily visible – it shows it is time for the sentence to be carried out. The reflective window over the executioners alcove allows the inmate one final chance to look in the mirror and self reflect before the mask is strapped onto his head.

  6. Leroy says

    The execution facility at Walla Walla dates back to the early 1930’s if not earlier. The design was originally for the gallows alone, though now lethal injections are applied at the ground level beneath the trap doors. The hanged inmate always wears a hood during the execution – so aside from a brief glance of his head when he appears on the second floor (which is where the last cell is located, directly behind the gallows divided by a wall and small breezeway), they never see his face.

    The design is optimal this way as witnesses don’t have to ascend any stairs to reach the trap level- they just walk in from the outside pavement.

    • D. Scott says

      Somewhat incorrect. Having witnessed the hanging of Westley Dodd for KING-5 news, it works like this. The witnesses are seated opposite the glass into the lethal injection chamber. The witnesses look up to the gallows room. As Dodd made a statement (unlike Charles Campbell), the curtains above were opened to see Dodd’s face and hear him speak. The curtains closed and he was now silhouetted behind the curtain. From below, you can see the bottom of the trap. When the trap sprung, Dodd fell into full view, hooded of course. As Campbell weighed more not necessitating such a long drop as Dodd, he did not fall into full view. Also, Campbell did not make a statement and accordingly, the curtains above were never opened.

  7. Leroy says

    No executions ever occurred at Green Haven State Prison in upstate New York. The electric chair was moved there from Sing Sing prison in 1971. The large rubber mat around the chair is there to absorb any discharge of bodily fluids as a result of the electrical current being applied. The witnesses were not to be separated by any barrier/wall/window either here nor at Sing Sing. Rather, they sat in church style pews about 10 feet in front of the inmate.

    The Green Haven death house was situated as a fifth floor penthouse on top of the prison administration building. There were two cells constructed here for the condemned.

  8. Leroy says

    The gallows at the Delaware Correctional Center were constructed in late 1986 in anticipation of condemned double murderer Billy Bailey having an execution date of January 9, 1987. He had waived his appeals and seemed resolute to accept his sentence. The state initially attempted to reassemble their old gallows, which had been in storage for forty years following its last use in 1946. However, those gallows collapsed upon reassembly.

    Delaware contracted with Fred Leuchter to design for them both a gallows and a trailer for lethal injection. The trailer was situated on the back of the maximum security unit at Delaware Correctional Center. Six years would pass before it was eventually used in March 1992. Bailey resumed appeals and his case proceeded another 9 years, but his execution by hanging did occur in January, 1996. After having previously launched an unsuccessful search across US and even Canada for a hangman, DCC Warden Robert Snyder was given the role of affixing the noose and pulling the lever.

    The gallows were dismantled and scrapped in 2003 after the last inmate who was eligible for the method, James Riley, was re-sentenced to life without parole. The injection trailer had problems with leaks and the state junked it in 2000, replacing it with a permanent facility.

  9. Pingback: The wrong men on Death Row – A growing number of bad convictions challenges the death penalty‚Äôs fairness « PORTABLE LIFE SKILLS DAILY WISDOM GUIDE

    • Leroy says

      It is no longer at the Newseum in Arlington, Virgiina to whom it had been loaned for a number of years. The Newseum moved into DC and the Green Haven/Sing Sing chair went back to the custody of the New York Department of Correctional Services.

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