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Supermax Prisons. By: Dustin Kennelly. Overview. Definition Purpose History Today Cost Construction Life Inside Against. Definition.

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Supermax Prisons

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Supermax prisons l.jpg

Supermax Prisons

By: Dustin Kennelly

Overview l.jpg


  • Definition

  • Purpose

  • History

  • Today

  • Cost

  • Construction

  • Life Inside

  • Against

Definition l.jpg


  • A Supermax facility (or control unit facility) is a facility that holds prisoners in their personal cells 22-23 hours per day, under constant surveillance, generally only allowing them out for medical attention, visitations that are extremely rare and non-contact.

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  • Intended to hold the “worst of the worst” prisoners the corrections department feels that pose the highest risk to a correctional facility.

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  • From “The Contemporary Relevance of Early Experiments with Supermax Reform” by Hans Toch

  • Ideas similar to Supermax was looked at as early as the 1800’s but abandoned due to effect on mental health of the prisoners

  • After being ordered by the New York State Legislature Auburn Prison warden Gershom Powers placed a “select class of convicts to be composed of the oldest and most heinous offenders, and to confine them constantly in solitary cells” on Christmas 1821.

  • Government and the public felt that the corrections system wasn’t working and needed to fix it.

  • After reports surfaced of attempted suicide and psychological problems the New York Governor ended the experiment.

  • Another experiment in Rhode Island by a Dr. Cleveland also found that prisoners held in solitary confinement began to have psychological problems, after studying 40 prisoners 25% of them “manifested decided symptoms of derangement”

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  • Alcatraz

  • Was opened as a federal prison in August 1934 and is now considered the countries first Supermax due to its design, location and at that time it held the countries worst criminals

  • It is believed that no one ever escaped the facility

  • Held major criminals of its time including Al Capone, Robert Stroud, George Kelly, and James Bulger

  • Closed in 1963 due to expense in operating facility, was replaced by a new facility being constructed in Marion, Illinois The United States Penitentiary

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  • The United States Penitentiary opened in 1963 to replace Alcatraz

  • Facility held 500 of the countries worst inmates

  • Became the United States first Supermax when it was placed on permanent lockdown in 1983 after inmates killed two guards

  • Lockdown continued till 2006 when the facility was remodeled into a Medium Security Prison and fully replaced by ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado.

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  • United States Federal Government Operates Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) Florence or Alcatraz of the Rockies

  • Opened in 1994 at a cost of $60 million

  • Was designed as a Supermax facility unlike the Marion Facility

  • Generally has around 430 male prisoners under 23 hour lockdown, with one hour spent in cement recreational yard.

  • Prison has 1,400 remote controlled doors, Laser beams, pressure pads, and guard dogs to prevent escape

  • Reported by “An Assessment of Supermax Prisons Using a Evaluation Research Framework” by Daniel P. Mears

    • 44 States also operate at least one Supermax unit housing over 25,000 inmates

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  • Reported by “An Assessment of Supermax Prisons Using a Evaluation Research Framework” by Daniel P. Mears

  • 2-3 times more expensive to build and operate due to technology, increased staffing, and only one inmate per cell.

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Cell Construction

  • Based of ADX Florence Construction

  • 7 ft x 12 ft

  • Solid Metal Door then a space and a steel bar door

  • Cement poured BED, DESK, STOOL

  • Stainless steel SINK, TOLIET and polished metal Mirror

  • Each prisoner has personal shower

  • All water appliances have shutoffs built in to make sure prisoners cannot flood or damage the appliance

  • Cells have windows that are 4 ft by 4ft, but allow you only to see the sky and the roof

  • Electronically controlled doors, cameras, censors to monitor every movement.

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Life Inside

  • 22-23 hours a day in your personal cell

  • TV & Radio that can be taken away as punishment

  • Every movement is monitored by cameras

  • Every time a prisoner is moved the facility shuts down.

  • 1-2 hours outside the cell is spent in a cement recreational area.

  • Prisoners may be able to get out of supermax’s in some cases

  • ADX Florence has a 3 year program that slowly socializes you to interacting with other inmates to eventually release you back to maximum security prison

  • A single violation gets you placed back into full restriction

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  • Many people today are still against Supermax facilities

  • Why?

    • Psychological Stressors

    • Are they Truly Needed?

    • Do they prevent or increase delinquency in prisons?

    • Cost

    • Lack of Programming and Treatment

    • May be just a short term solution.

    • Suggested by “An Assessment of Supermax Prisons Using a Evaluation Research Framework” by Daniel P. Mears

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  • The Contemporary Relevance of Early Experiments with Supermax Reform by Hans Toch

  • An Assessment of Supermax Prisons Using a Evaluation Research Framework by Daniel P. Mears

  • Supermax Prisons in the Consciousness of Prisoners by Kenneth E. Hartman

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