ADX Florence, built south of Florence Colorado in 1994, is the most secure prison in the United States prison system. Commonly called a “Supermax” prison, it has 490 beds in a compound which encompasses 37 acres. The prison was designed to house prisoners deemed too dangerous or high-profile for regular incarceration and nearly 95% of all inmates that have been sent to Florence were transfers with histories of violent behavior in other prison facilities. Guinness World Records acknowledges ADX Florence as being the most secure prison in the world.
ADX Florence is known for its harsh conditions. Inmates are kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day; the one hour they are allowed out of their cell takes place in a bigger cell with vaulted ceilings – called the “empty swimming pool” – with a 4 inch x 4 foot skylight as the only window. It is designed to prevent the prisoners from knowing where they are, and they still spend this time alone. For at least the first three years, prisoners are not allowed to come into contact with other prisoners at any time, anywhere on the premises. Over time, good behavior can earn inmates more “outside” time and for the most fortunate, a possible transfer back to a less-secure prison.
The cells’ furniture (desk, stool, bed) is poured concrete. The toilets are designed to shut off if plugged and the showers are on timers. Rooms may have mirrors, lights, radios, and in rare instances televisions – but these are used as privileges based on behavior and are seldom awarded. Food is hand-delivered by the guards as there is no mess hall. The prison has a multitude of motion detectors and cameras, 1,400 remote-controlled steel doors, and 12-foot high razor wire fences. As an added level of security, laser beams, pressure pads, and attack dogs guard the area surrounding the prison’s outlying fences.
Conditions are described as harsh, but clean and fair – you would be hard pressed to find someone to cite those staying here as being “unfairly treated”. Former ADX wardens have described the place as “a cleaner version of Hell.” The prison operates under the strategy of “sensory deprivation” and solitude. Inmates are left to their own thoughts, and often this leads to hallucinations, memory loss, and increasingly irritable behavior.
ADX Florence is home to some of this country’s most violent and evil criminals; it is also the number one holding facility for convicted terrorists. Currently the prison houses over 400 violent criminals, including those involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and 2001 World Trade Center Attacks. There are also some notable criminals such as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, shoe bomber Richard Reid, Oklahoma City bomber accomplice Terry Nichols, Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph, and Soviet spy Robert Hanssen.
Arguably the most famous resident is Thomas Silverstein, a convicted murderer and former Aryan Brotherhood leader who has committed four additional murders while imprisoned. He currently holds the record of being the longest resident of solitary confinement in the United States prison system, having been in solitary since 1983. Silverstein is often credited with being one of the reasons the ADX Supermax was designed due to his uncontrollable activities in other prisons.
Defenders of the Supermax prison point out that the criminals housed inside have shown no regard for human life – many having committed murders in other prisons around the country in addition to their initial heinous crimes. For a prisoner facing multiple life sentences, another life sentence for killing a prison guard is not a deterrent; harsher penalties were needed to rehabilitate the “worst of the worst” throughout other prisons. Currently, the threat of being transferred to solitary confinement for the rest of your days at ADX Florence is the best deterrent against violent crime the United States Bureau of Prisons has.
Diagram of typical cell accomodations:
Satellite & Map of ADX Florence: click here