What it's like inside the 'Alcatraz of the Rockies,' America's toughest prison

More than 40 US states run “super-maximum security” prisons for particularly violent or ill-behaved convicts. But thefederal government runs only one “Supermax:” the notoriousUS Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado.

More widely known as the ADX or the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” it’s the highest-security prison in the entire country. There, every inmate spends roughly 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, The New York Times reported in a lengthy article over the weekend.

The ADX was designed for “a very small subset of the inmate population who show absolutely no concern for human life,” Norman Carlson, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, has said, according to The Times. The ADX currently houses 422 inmates, including some of the world’s most infamous names, like the Unabomber.

The Times described their daily life like this:

Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls and double sets of sliding metal doors (with solid exteriors, so prisoners can’t see one another). A single window, about three feet high but only four inches wide, offers a notched glimpse of sky and little else. Each cell has a sink-toilet combo and an automated shower, and prisoners sleep on concrete slabs topped with thin mattresses. Most cells also have televisions (with built-in radios), and inmates have access to books and periodicals, as well as certain arts-and-craft materials. Prisoners in the general population are allotted a maximum of 10 hours of exercise a week outside their cells, alternating between solo trips to an indoor “gym” (a windowless cell with a single chin-up bar) and group visits to the outdoor rec yard (where each prisoner nonetheless remains confined to an individual cage). All meals come through slots in the interior door, as does any face-to-face human interaction (with a guard or psychiatrist, chaplain or imam). The Amnesty report said that ADX prisoners “routinely go days with only a few words spoken to them.”

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In 2012, Michael Bacote, an illiterate inmate with an IQ of 61, along with a handful of other inmates, sued the government, alleging the ADX violated their basic rights by placing them in such deplorable conditions. It’s the largest lawsuit ever filed against the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“This place is not designed for humanity,” Robert Hood, the warden from 2002 to 2005, told the Times. He also described the facility as a “cleaner version of hell” to “60 Minutes” back in 2007.

Built for $US60 million on 600 acres of land donated by Colorado residents, the ADX succeeded another Supermax facility in Marion, Illinois after a wave of guard killings shut it down.

An Amnesty International representative toured the facility in 2001 and allowed Business Insider to reprint her photos. Between then and now, the prison only granted access one other time.

A typical cell in a General Population Unit (gen pop).

Another angle of the cell.

Prisoners spend 22 to 24 hours a day confined to these rooms.

The doors in gen pop have slats, so prisoners can see outside their cells and interact.

Here's the Control Unit, one of the ADX's most restrictive areas along with the Solitary Housing Unit (SHU) and Range 13. The doors barely have windows.

Prisoners in the Control Unit exercise alone and have no contact with anyone other than staff.

The cells in SHU have concrete cots, adjacent to toilets, and only a small window.

The ADX allows gen pop prisoners up to 10 hours of out-of-cell exercise in two-hour slots five days a week, alternating between indoor and outdoor exercise. Some outdoor exercise happens in these cages.

These outdoor recreation cages are for prisoners in the Step Down Program, which allows inmates to transfer to less restrictive areas.

The outdoor recreation area in the Control Unit has only one pull-up bar.

Indoor exercise for gen pop takes place in a similar space. Inmates may also have their exercise privileges suspended for up to three months at a time for minor violations, like feeding crumbs to birds.

During social visits, inmates use a telephone to communicate through a glass pane. Guards may shackle their ankles the entire time.

While America takes a harsher approach to incarceration ...

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