U.S. Supermax prison in Colorado will not have an escape

U.S. Supermax prison in Colorado has quite the crew of inmates

From Islamic terrorists to New York mafia dons Florence Supermax prison has them all.  And they all sleep on concrete beds.

Officially it is the “Administrative Maximum” facility at the Florence Correctional Complex (FCC). It is the federal Bureau of Prison’s highest security lock-up and is already home to a number of prisoners incarcerated as part of what the US calls its war on terror.

British “shoe bomber” Richard Reid is held there. Omar Abdel-Rahman, jailed for conspiracy after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, was there for a short period.

Ramzi Yousef, also implicated in the 1993 plot, is also behind bars at the institution known for its harsh conditions.

The U.S. government uses the abbreviation ADX for the Florence supermax.  ADX stands for Administrative Maximum Security.

Built in 1994 at a cost of about $60m, ADX Florence is said to be equipped with 1,400 remote-controlled steel doors, motion detectors, pressure pads and gun towers with perfect sightlines across the complex.

Tightly controlled and technologically advanced, such facilities are designed for the most dangerous and disruptive prisoners – and have been a source of controversy for many years.

Solitary confinement is an almost permanent way of life, with ADX Florence’s 400-or-so prisoners locked in spartan cells for at least 23 hours each day.

An hour each day can be spent in a concrete-walled recreation yard.

A typical “Supermax” cell’s furniture – bed, desk, stool – is made from poured concrete.

The cells are equipped with showers that run on a timer, and a toilet that shuts off if plugged. Meals are delivered to inmates in their cells to restrict interaction.  Each cell also is equipped for 24-hour video and audio surveillance.


ADX Florence is a 37-acre (15 ha), 490-bed complex at 5880 Highway 67, Florence, Colorado, about 100 miles (160 km) south of Denver and 40 miles (60 km) south of Colorado Springs. It is one part of the Florence Federal Correctional Complex (FFCC) which comprises three correctional facilities, each with a different security rating.
The majority of the facility is above ground. The only part that is underground is a subterranean corridor that links cellblocks to the lobby. Inmates spend 23 hours a day locked in their cells and are escorted by a minimum of three officers for their five hours of private recreation per week. Each cell has a desk, a stool, and a bed, which are almost entirely made out of poured concrete, as well as a toilet that shuts off if blocked, a shower that runs on a timer to prevent flooding, and a sink lacking a potentially dangerous tap. Rooms may also be fitted with polished steel mirrors bolted to the wall, an electric light that can be shut off only remotely, a radio, and on rare occasions, a black-and-white television that shows recreational, educational, and religious programming. In addition, all cells are soundproofed to prevent prisoners from communicating with each other via Morse code.


The 4 in (10 cm) by 4 ft (120 cm) windows are designed to prevent inmates from knowing their specific location within the complex because they can see only the sky and roof through them, making it virtually impossible to plan an escape. Inmates exercise in a concrete pit resembling an empty swimming pool, also designed to prevent them from knowing their location in the facility. The pit is only large enough for a prisoner to walk 10 steps in a straight line, or 31 steps in a circle. Telecommunication with the outside world is forbidden, and food is hand-delivered by correction officers. However, inmates sent here from other prisons can potentially be allowed to eat in a shared dining room. The prison as a whole contains a multitude of motion detectors and cameras, and 1,400 remote-controlled steel doors. Guards in the prison’s control center monitor inmates 24 hours a day and can activate a “panic button” that instantly closes every door in the facility should an escape attempt be suspected. Pressure pads and 12-foot-tall (3.7 m) razor wire fences surround the perimeter, which is patrolled by heavily armed guards with silent attack dogs. In extreme cases of inmate misbehavior, the center of the prison houses an area known as “Z-Unit” or “The Black Hole,” which can hold up to 148 prisoners in completely darkened and fully soundproofed cells. Each Z-Unit cell is equipped with a full set of body restraints that are built directly into the concrete bed.

Typical supermax cell.

1. Typical cell sized 7ft x 12ft (3.5x2m) with small slit window
2. Shower works on timer
3. Small black and white TV showing educational programmes (some prisoners only)
4. Heavy duty steel door or grate
5. Writing desk
6. Toilet which shuts off if blocked
7. Sink
8. Steel mirror, rather than smashable glass

Breeding monsters

Supermaxes tend to be the end of the road for those in the prison system.

Transfer to an even marginally less restrictive environment can require several years of good behaviour.

To their supporters, these jails are the most appropriate way to house the worst of the worst in the prison population.

Critics describe them as a breeding ground for monsters – with regimes that are tantamount to torture.

Notable inmates at ADX Florence.

Name Number Details
Anthony Casso 16802-050 Mobster and former underboss of the Lucchese crime family
Wadih el-Hage 42393-054 Conspirator in the 1998 United States embassy bombings
Matthew F. Hale 15177-424 White supremacist leader; convicted of soliciting the murder of a federal judge
Larry Hoover 86063-024 Leader of the Gangster Disciples Nation based in Chicago
Jeff Fort 92298-024 Co-founder of the Black P. Stones gang in Chicago, and founder of its El Rukn faction
Omar Portee 30063-037 Co-founder of the United Blood Nation based in New York
Theodore Kaczynski 04475-046 The “Unabomber”
Juan Matta-Ballesteros 37671-133 Drug trafficker, co-conspirator in the Enrique Camarena case
Zacarias Moussaoui 51427-054 Conspirator in the September 11, 2001 attacks
Terry Nichols 08157-031 Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirator
Richard Colvin Reid 24079-038 British, Islamist terrorist, nicknamed the “Shoe Bomber”
Eric Robert Rudolph 18282-058 Convicted of the 1996 Olympic Park bombing
Dwight York 17911-054 Leader of the Nuwaubians; convicted for transporting minors across state lines, racketeering and financial reporting charges
Salvador Magluta 26012-037 Co-leader, along with Augusto “Willy” Falcon of a Miami-based cocaine trafficking organization that trafficked over 75 tons of cocaine into the United States.
Timothy McVeigh (deceased) 12076-064 Oklahoma City bomber (moved to USP Terre Haute in 1999,  executed on June 11, 2001)
Kenneth McGriff 26301-053 Drug trafficker and organized crime figure
H. Rap Brown 99974-555 Civil rights activist and former Justice Minister of the Black Panther Party, convicted of murdering a Fulton County, Georgia, deputy Sheriff
Thomas Silverstein 14634-116 Convicted of murdering Federal Correctional Officer Merle E. Clutts
Luis Felipe 14067-074 Founder of the New York chapter of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation
Howard Mason 24651-053 Drug trafficker who ordered the murder of police officer Eddie Byrne
Barry Mills 14559-116 Leading member of the Aryan Brotherhood
Charles Harrelson (deceased) 02582-016 Texan hitman, convicted of murdering a federal judge, father of actor Woody Harrelson
Jose Padilla 20796-424 Convicted of aiding terrorists
Michael Swango 08352-424 American physician and serial killer; convicted of three fatal poisonings.
Mahmud Abouhalima 28064-054 So-called Mujahideen leader, 1993 World Trade Center bombing implication and conviction
Raul “Sherm” Leon 95335-198 Mexican Mafia leader, featured in Chris Blatchford’s “The Black Hand: The Bloody Rise and Redemption of “Boxer” Enriquez, a Mexican Mob Killer.”
Robert Hanssen 48551-083 Former senior FBI agent serving life for espionage
Ramzi Yousef 03911-000 A planner of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing terrorism
Gregory Scarpa, Jr. 10099-050 Mobster and son of mob capo Gregory Scarpa RICO

The Canadian equivalent to an American supermax prison is Millhaven in Bath, Ontario. Located on the shore of Lake Ontario southwest of Kingston it houses the “worst of the worst” in the Canadian Federal prison system.

Security at Millhaven.

The perimeter is surrounded by a double 30-foot razor fence, and has observation towers at the corners. There is a 4-foot “warning fence” inside the perimeter of the exercise yard, that acts as a boundary inmates cannot cross without deadly force being used. Armed patrol vehicles with AR-15 rifles and parabolic microphones are on guard 24/7. There are motion sensors in the outlying property, and multiple CCTV units throughout.

Specialized perimeter security patrols are equipped with TOW rockets to guard against extraction from the prisoners yard via helicopter. (This was enacted after such an escape was successful on June 19, 1990 from Kent maximum security in BC.)

Visitors are subject to search once on the property (both person and vehicle) and an ION scanner is used upon entry to detect drugs or other compounds. The visiting area is equipped with CCTV, and listening devices are in each table.

Inmates in the MAU (intake) are allowed only screened visits (behind glass).

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