There are prisons and there are prisons. The toughest prison in the U. S. is the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Fremont County, Colorado, about 100 miles south of Denver. Commonly called ADX Florence or “The Alcatraz of the Rockies,” ADX Florence was specially built for male inmates who are the most dangerous or need the tightest control or the most notorious.
Though opened in 1994, ADX Florence was inspired by 2 serious security breaches in 1983 at the U. S. Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois. Two corrections officers were stabbed to death in two different incidents. In response, the Marion penitentiary was put on permanent lockdown, keeping inmates in solitary confinement for 22 or more hours/day and eliminating religious services, exercise and collective dining.
Inspired by the effectiveness of the permanently locked down Marion facility, the Federal Bureau of Prisons constructed ADX Florence for $60 million. The facility can house 490 male inmates, including those with extensive histories of violence against prison guards and other inmates, leaders of violent gangs, domestic or foreign terrorists, spies, high escape risks and key drug cartel figures.
Focused on keeping the inmates in and keeping others out, the facility is surrounded by 12-foot high razor wire fences, pressure pads and supposedly attack dogs, too. An inmate: is kept in a cell measuring 7’ x 12’ with a 4” x 4’ window, a poured concrete desk, stool and bed, a toilet that shuts off if blocked, a time-controlled shower, possibly a bolted mirror, possibly a black-and-white TV for religious programs, classes and 50 channels of broadcasting, and a sink without a tap; is kept in solitary confinement 23 hours/day for the first year or longer, depending on his behavior; receives 3 – 5 hours of solo recreation per week; and is escorted to and from areas outside his cells by at least 3 officers.
In most cases, food is brought to the inmate and there is no telecommunication with the world; however, prisoners may speak to each other between their pens or through cell ventilation grids and well-behaved prisoners may receive up to 5 hours of phone calls/month and communal eating outside their cells. The slender cell window and concrete exercise area are designed so the inmate does not know his location and cannot plan an escape. Also, the prison has motion detectors, cameras and steel doors to control and monitor the inmate.
ADX Florence does control behavior and nobody has ever escaped. Depending on your viewpoint, ADX Florence is either the best or the worst prison in America. Eleven inmates filed a federal class action suit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and other officials alleging abuse, neglect and failure to diagnose mentally ill prisoners at ADX Florence. The suit is currently moving through the justice system.
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