5 things to know about the ‘escape proof’ supermax prison

El Chapo will be serving out the rest of his days in the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”


By C1 Staff

After being found guilty on all counts in an international drug distribution case, notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will be serving out the rest of his days in the United States’ only federal “supermax” prison, ADX-Florence or “administrative maximum” prison in Florence, Colorado.

Here are five things to know about ADX, which is considered the toughest prison in the country.

This Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 file photo shows a guard tower looming over a federal prison complex which houses a Supermax facility outside Florence, in southern Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley,File)
This Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 file photo shows a guard tower looming over a federal prison complex which houses a Supermax facility outside Florence, in southern Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley,File)

1. What is a supermax prison?

Supermax prisons are the highest-level security prisons, designed to hold inmates that pose extreme security threats. Inmates have little to no time outside of their cells, very few activities and very little contact with other humans. Alcatraz is considered to be an early example of what would become the supermax model.

2. ADX has a reputation for being “escape proof”

El Chapo has escaped prison twice while being held by Mexican authorities – in 2015 and 2001. But ADX is different.

Nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” no one has escaped the facility, located in the high desert about two hours south of Denver, since it opened in 1994. Inmates are housed in soundproof, 7-by-12-foot cells for 23 hours of the day in permanent lockdown, with no contact with other inmates. Staff members are carefully vetted and have little direct contact with inmates.

Each cell contains a bunk, desk, stool and shelf made of concrete, and a steel sink and toilet. Inmates can see outside of their cell through a single window that is three feet high and four inches wide, according to the New York Times. Most cells have televisions.

According to SF Gate, ADX “is the only prison specifically designed to keep every occupant in near-total solitary confinement.”

3. ADX was born after the killing of two correctional officers.  

According to the Washington Post, ADX was conceived in the wake of the killing of two correctional officers on October 22, 1983, at the Marion Federal Prison in Illinois – what was at the time the toughest federal prison in the country. After their deaths, Marion was changed into an “all-lockdown” facility, and served as the test model for other “supermax” lockdown facilities like Pelican Bay and, eventually, ADX.

4. "Worse than death"

Current C1 columnist Robert Hood, who served as ADX warden from 2002 to 2005 described life in ADX in stark terms to CNN:

"As soon as they come through the door ... you see it in their faces. That's when it really hits you. You're looking at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains in the backdrop. When you get inside, that is the last time you will ever see it. The Supermax is life after death. It's long term. In my opinion, it's far much worse than death."

5. It holds many high-profile inmates.

A facility for the worst of the worst obviously holds a lot of criminals with household names. The Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid all call ADX home.

LEARN MORE

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