ADX Florence was constructed as a response to several serious security breaches at federal prisons, including those that occurred at the United States Penitentiary, Marion, a high-security facility in Marion, Illinois, on October 22, 1983, in which Correction Officers Merle Clutts and Robert Hoffman were stabbed to death in two separate incidents. Relatively relaxed security procedures allowed an inmate, while walking down a hall, to turn to the side and approach another cell so an accomplice could unlock his handcuffs with a stolen key and provide him with a knife. Both officers were killed using this tactic. Clutts's killer, Thomas Silverstein, is serving three life sentences at ADX. Hoffman's killer, Clayton Fountain, died in prison of natural causes in 2004.
As a response, USP Marion went into "permanent lockdown" and transformed itself into a "control unit" prison for the next 23 years, requiring inmates to remain in solitary confinement for 22 to 23 hours each day, and prohibiting communal dining, exercise, and religious services.
Following the killings, Norman Carlson, then director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, argued that a more secure type of prison needed to be designed, where uncontrollable inmates could be isolated from correction officers and other prisoners for the sake of security and safety. Marion became a model for the subsequent construction of ADX, a facility designed from the ground up as a control unit prison. Years later, Carlson said that building such a prison was the only way to handle inmates who "show absolutely no concern for human life." He pointed out that since Silverstein and Fountain were already serving multiple life sentences in a maximum-security facility, simply adding another life sentence would have had no real deterrent effect on their behavior, and thereby enhance the safety of either institution staff, or other inmates. Such individuals in addition posed the risk of becoming suicidal/homicidal. That is, in response to their hostility to indefinite incarceration, they seek to terminate their sentences not by attempting their physical escape, but by committing a deliberate, premeditated act of homicide against someone, anyone, to whom they have access. Such individuals commit their murders in the hope that the particular circumstances of their new homicide (its premeditation, the killing of a law enforcement or corrections officer, or an aggravated rape prior to the murder), would not only justify their prosecution, but also the government's seeking the death penalty for their acts.
ADX opened in November 1994. The residents of Fremont County welcomed the prison as a source of employment. At the time, the county was already home to nine existing prisons. However, the lure of between 750 and 900 permanent jobs, in addition to another 1,000 temporary jobs during the prison's construction, led residents in the area to raise $160,000 to purchase 600 acres (240 ha) for the new prison. Hundreds of people attended the groundbreaking for the facility, which was designed jointly by two leading architecture firms in Colorado Springs, DLR Group and LKA Partners, and cost $60 million to build.
The supermax unit at ADX Florence houses about 410 male inmates, each assigned to one of six security levels.
The facility is best known for housing inmates who have been deemed too dangerous, too high-profile or too great a national security risk for even a maximum-security prison. These include the leaders of violent gangs who had continued to issue orders to their members from lower-security facilities, Larry Hoover of the Gangster Disciples, and Barry Mills and Tyler Bingham of the Aryan Brotherhood. ADX also houses foreign terrorists, including Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in civilian court of the September 11 attacks; Faisal Shahzad, the perpetrator of the 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt; and Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; as well as domestic terrorists, such as Ted Kaczynski and Eric Rudolph. Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was housed at ADX before he was sentenced to death in 1997 and transferred to the United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, which houses most federal death row inmates and is where Federal death sentences are carried out. McVeigh's co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, is serving 161 life sentences at ADX. Robert Hanssen, the former FBI agent who betrayed several spies to the Soviet Union and Russia, is serving 15 life sentences at ADX for his crimes. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombings, was transferred here from another prison in the Florence complex on July 17, 2015. The prison also houses inmates who are a high escape risk, including Richard McNair, who escaped from a county jail and two other prisons before being sent to ADX. Additionally, former Bonanno crime family boss Vincent Basciano is currently serving time at ADX Florence.
However, the majority of inmates have been sent there because they have an extensive history of committing violent crimes against corrections officers and fellow inmates in other prisons, up to and including murder. These inmates are kept in administrative segregation. They are confined in a specifically designed single-person cell for 23 hours a day. They are removed under restraint (handcuffed, shackled or both), on a 24-hour clock (e.g., their one-hour time out of their cell may occur at any time of the day or night). The hour outside of the cell is for showering; exercise, and with privileges, a phone call. Their diet is restricted as well; to ensure that the foods they are served (in their cell) can't be used to harm themselves, or to make unhygienic conditions in their cell.
After at least one year, depending on their conduct, inmates are then gradually allowed out for longer periods. The long-term goal is to keep them at ADX for three years, then transfer them to a less restrictive prison to serve out the remainder of their sentences. According to a 1998 report in the San Francisco Chronicle, ADX Florence's main purpose is to "try and extract reasonably peaceful behavior from extremely violent career prisoners".
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.
Cheri Nolan, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General under President George W. Bush, toured ADX Florence in 2004 while a member of the advisory board for the National Institute of Corrections, a federal agency that supports correctional programs. Nolan stated, "I've never seen anything like it as far as the technology and physical set up. Once you're inside you really can't tell where you are - what's north, south, east or west. The way it's designed, it's an interesting kind of setup," Nolan said. "Because of the high value of targets they have there – on a world scale, whether it be a drug cartel or terrorists – they are as concerned with someone trying to get in to break someone out as much as they are about inmates trying to escape. The protection around the prison is pretty remarkable."
The Federal Bureau of Prisons allowed the media to take a guided tour of ADX on September 14, 2007. Attending reporters remarked on "an astonishing and eerie quiet" within the prison as well as a sense of safety due to the rigorous security measures in place within the facility. One journalist who took the tour, 60 Minutes producer Henry Schuster, said: "A few minutes inside that cell and two hours inside Supermax were enough to remind me why I left high school a year early. The walls close in very fast."
The prison has come under far less scorn than comparable facilities at the state level, which tend to suffer heavily from overpopulation, low staff-to-inmate ratios and security issues inherent to attempting to enforce a supermax system in a non-purpose-built facility. Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch said after a tour of the facility, "The Bureau of Prisons has taken a harsh punitive model and implemented it as well as anybody I know." Notorious escape artist Richard Lee McNair wrote to a journalist from his cell in 2009 to say "Thank God for prisons [...] There are some very sick people in here... Animals you would never want living near your family or the public in general. I don't know how corrections staff deal with it. They get spit on, shit on, abused and I have seen them risk their own lives and save a prisoner many times."
In 2012, 11 inmates filed a federal class-action suit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and officials who run ADX Florence, Bacote v. Federal Bureau of Prisons now titled Cunningham v. Federal Bureau of Prisons. The suit alleged chronic abuse, as well as failure to properly diagnose – and neglect of – prisoners who are seriously mentally ill. As of March 2015, settlement negotiations were underway with the help of a federal magistrate and some improvements had been made by the Bureau of Prisons.
In May 2013, ADX Florence was ranked #1 as one of the ten worst prisons in the United States, in the opinion of Mother Jones magazine.
This list contains foreign citizens who committed or attempted to commit terrorist attacks against United States citizens and interests.
All sentences are without parole, as parole is not afforded to prisoners sentenced under federal law since 1987.
This list contains American citizens who committed or attempted to commit terrorist attacks against United States citizens and interests.
In the Alex Cross series of books written by James Patterson, ADX Florence houses Cross' longtime nemesis and former FBI agent Kyle Craig until he escapes.
The prison was referenced in the Breakout Kings season one finale episode "Where In The World Is Carmen Vega" as a maximum-security prison in Colorado to which Vega was sent at the end of the episode, and in several Hawaii Five-0 episodes referencing where Wo-Fat was sent.
The prison makes an appearance in the graphic novel I Am Legend: Awakening where the character John Edward Lord is left to die when the prison is abandoned, escapes but then returns to fight creatures in a last stand battle.
In season 9, episode 6 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Svengali (6 Nov. 2007), the imprisoned serial killer, Robert Morton, agrees to make a helpful court appearance for ADA Casey Novak in exchange for a transfer to a Federal Prison, seeking an improvement over his current situation. Morton foils Novak's intent but she retaliates by keeping her word and sending him to Florence SuperMax.