ADX Florence

adx florence

United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility
Also known as: ADX Florence, Alcatraz of the Rockies, and Supermax
Opened: November 1994
Cost to construct: $60 million
Capacity: 490
Inmates: 405
Adjacent minimum security camp inmates: 512


During the 1980s, security breeches were occurring in Federal Prisons across the US, including in the USP Marion. In 1983, two prison officers were stabbed to death in separate incidents, causing the facility to enter a permanent lock down. The prison was quickly transformed into a control unit, with 22-23 hours per day solitary confinement for all inmates. It remained this way for the next 23 years.

After the stabbings at Marion, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Normal Carlson, called for a new, high security prison to be built. This prison would be used to hold uncontrollable inmates who show “absolutely no concern for human life.” The USP Marion became a model of how such a prison should be ran, and construction of the new control unit at Florence began.

The local community of Florence were overjoyed with the news of the new prison, as it would bring with it a wealth of new jobs to the area. A total of 1000 people needed to be hired to construct the building, plus up to 900 permanent jobs would be needed to work inside the constructed prison. With this in mind, the local residents raised $160,000 to buy the 600 acre plot of land for the facility to be built upon.

The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX Florence) opened in November 1994, designed to hold the most dangerous male criminals in the US. Each aspect of the building was created to reinforce security and to ensure the guards have full control over each individual inmate. Adjacent to the main facility now lies a minimum-security camp that houses 512 inmates, more than the main building.

The Facility

The 37-acre complex is situated at 5880 Highway 67, Florence, Colorado. The prison is one in a set of three facilities ran by the Florence Federal Correctional Complex (FFCC.) Every aspect of the prison is controlled by a computer system, allowing the guards to do anything from opening and locking doors to stopping the water supply in individual cells.

ADX Supermax Florence

Each cell holds a window of 10cm by 120cm, and are strategically placed to ensure the prisoners can only see the roof of the building and the sky. This is to prevent the inmates from knowing their exact location within the grounds, and therefore almost impossible to plan an escape. In keeping with hiding the location, the recreational pens tend to resemble concrete pits, designed to block off the inmates’ view.


When new prisoners first enter the facility, they are assessed to determine which unit that should be housed in. They are assessed on their behaviour in other prisons, and the nature of their criminal history.
The six ADX prison security levels are:

  • General Population Unit
  • Intermediate Unit/ Transitional Units
  • Range 13
  • Special Security Unit
  • Special Housing Unit (SHU)
  • The Control Unit

To be moved into less controlled units, such as the General Population, prisoners must exhibit good behaviour for an extended period of time.

Individual Cells

The majority of the prisoners at ADX spend roughly 20 hours a day in their cells, except for those in high security units, who spend up to 24 hours a day. In most cases, prisoners are only allowed out of their cells for medical treatment, limited social or legal visits,and 2-3 hours a week of indoor or outdoor recreation. The cells are seven by 12 feet, and consist of:

  • A concrete bed with a thin mattress and a blanket,
  • a small desk,
  • a stool and
  • a stainless steel sink and toilet.
  • A single window around 10cm by 120cm
  • The majority of the cells contain a radio and/ or a television to provide educational, religious and recreational programs. They are removed as a form of punishment.
  • Most cells have an automated shower, which can be controlled by the guards outside the cell.

The solid concrete walls of the cells prevent not only escape, but direct communication with other prisoners. The door to each cellADX Cell Design is made from solid steel, with a small slot located in the middle. The majority of the cells in ADX have an interior barred wall, combined with an additional sliding door for added security.

Those in the high security blocks, such as Range 13 and the Control Unit are isolated from all other prisoners at all times. The prisoners who are permitted to leave their cells for recreational purposes have remote-controlled doors at the back of their cell, which leads to a walkway known as ‘the dog run.’ The run leads to a segregated recreational pen consisting of nothing but concrete flooring and lighting, and they are kept isolated from all other convicts, to prohibit any communication with anyone other than the ADX prison officers.

The prisoners who are held in such blocks as the Control Unit are assessed on a monthly basis, meaning that their time spent there is largely dependant on their behaviour.


In 2006, the Olympic Park bomber, Eric Rudolph sent a series of letters to a Colorado Springs newspaper claiming ADX to be a place to inflict “misery and pain.” He went on to describe that he spends 23 hours a day in his cell, and that his only form of exercise is in a “large empty swimming pool’ that is divided into “dog-kennel style cages.”

Eric Rudolph

In one statement issued by Rudolph, he claimed ADX “is a closed-off world designed to isolate inmates from social and environmental stimuli, with the ultimate purpose of causing mental illness and chronic physical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.” His views on the use of solitary confinement were of equal resentment: “Using solitary confinement, Supermax is designed to inflict as much misery and pain as is constitutionally permissible.”

Whilst very few members of the public feel any sympathy for the Olympic Park bomber, his claims are not the only negative reviews to surface regarding the supermax facility. A former warden described the prison as a “cleaner version of Hell”, and there have been numerous suicides reported, along side hunger strikes.

In 2012, a total of 11 inmates filed a federal class-action law suit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the officials who run the facility Bacote v. Federal Bureau of Prisons.) The law suit accused the staff at ADX of chronic abuse, and the failure to correctly diagnose those who are seriously mentally ill, often leading to neglect.

The first paragraph of the pleading declares:
Currently, the Bureau of Prisons turns a blind eye to the needs of the mentally ill at ADX and to deplorable conditions of confinement that are injurious, callus and inhumane to those prisoners. No civilized society treats its mentally disabled citizens with a comparable level of deliberate indifference tot heir plight.

ADX Florence cool images786 (4)

The fifth paragraph of the pleading describes in further detail the allegations against BOP:
Prisoners interminably wail, scream and bang on the walls of their cells. Some mutilate their bodies with razors, shards of glass, writing utensils and whatever other objects they can obtain. Some swallow razor blades, nail clippers, parts of radios and televisions, broken glass and other dangerous objects. Others carry on delusional conversations with the voices they hear in their heads, oblivious to the reality and the danger that such behaviour might pose to themselves and anyone who interacts with them.

Paragraph 60 defines specific behaviour administered by the correctional officers:
Likewise, in 2010, a severely and chronically depressed prisoner who had attempted to kill himself a few months earlier was escorted to the ADX [Special Housing Unit] after throwing milk at a corrections officer. He was placed in a cell just vacated by another chronically ill prisoner who had smeared the cell’s floors, walls, bed and mattress with faeces. The prisoner was given no cleaning supplies, and was not issued a blanket, towel or sheet. He used a roll of toilet paper in the cell to try to wipe the faeces off of a spot on the floor that was large enough to enable him to lie down. For two days, he remained lying on that single “clean” space.

Upon information and belief, ADX staff knowingly chose to place the seriously mentally ill prisoner in the faeces -caked cell just vacated by another seriously mentally ill inmate and left him there for two days for the purpose of punishing him by means of another prisoner’s excrement.

Supermax for Women

The BOP does not as yet have a Supermax’ prison for women. Those who are deemed to have ‘special management concerns’ due to escape attempts and extreme violence are sent to the administrative unit of the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.


The convicts whom are sent to ADX have been deemed by the courts as either too dangerous or too high profile to be housed in any other type of prison. Such criminals include the leaders of violent gangs who still hold influence in standard prisons, foreign and domestic terrorists, and those who are classified as a high risk escape.

The vast majority of inmates at ADX are held here due to their violent behaviour towards other prisoners and the corrections officers at other prison facilities. Any prisoner who enters the facility with a record of violence towards the guards are forced into solitary confinement for the first year of their sentence, with only one hour a day outside their cell. It is after this year that they are assessed, and if they have behaved accordingly, they are allowed out of their cells for longer periods. For such prisoners, it is the goal to eventually return them back to less restrictive prisons to carry out their sentence.

Notable Inmates

Barry “The Baron” Mills – Mills is a leader of the prison gang known as the Aryan Brotherhood (AB.) He initially became involvedBarryMills with the gang during his time at San Quentin Prison, in the 1970s, and has since then left a trail of violence and destruction behind in his wake. He was accused of almost decapitating a fellow inmate in a maximum-security prison in Georgia in 1979, and found to be dealing narcotic and racketeering in the 1980’s.

Mills worked his way up the rankings of the Brotherhood, assuming a seat in the three-member ‘federal commission’ for the gang and expanding their power structure within the US prisons. In 2006, Mills, along with three other leaders of the Brotherhood were indicted for several crimes, including murder, drug trafficking and racketeering. He was sent to ADX Florence and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Anthony ‘Gas-pipe’ Casso – Casso is an Italian American mobster and former under-boss of the Lucchese crime family. Before his incarceration, he was considered to be a ‘homicidal maniac’ by his peers, and has confessed to multiple murders and attempted murders. He was arrested in 1993 and quickly became an informer and was placed in the witness protection program.

However, just five years later, Casso was thrown out of the program for numerous allegations, including bribing guards, assaulting inmates and making false statements about federal witnesses Gravano and D’Arco. Shortly after he was thrown out, he was sentenced to 13 consecutive life terms in prison, plus an addition of 455 years. He was sent to begin this sentence at ADX Florence, but was moved in 2013 to the CCM Minneapolis.

Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano – Former under-boss of the Gambino crime family and is known for helping the FBI to bring down the boss of the family, John Gotti. Initially, Gravano was involved in the conspiracy to murder the Gambino boss, Paul Castellano with John Gotti and several others. After Castellano’s death in 1985, Gotti became the family’s boss, promoting Gravano to the under-boss position.


When Gravano turned informant for the FBI, it sent shock waves across the Mafia community, driving many other Cosa Nostra members to become informants also.

Wadih el-Hage – el-Hage is a former al-Qaeda member who is currently serving life imprisonment for his role in the 1998 Unite States embassy bombings. He was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to life without parole in 2001 and is currently residing in ADX Florence with his co-defendants.

Robert Hanssen – A former FBI agent who worked as a spy for the Soviet and Russian intelligence services from 1979 to 2001. During his trial he negotiated a plea bargain that allowed him to escape the death penalty providing that he co-operated with the authorities. In July 2001, he pleaded guilty to fifteen counts of espionage and was sentenced to fifteen consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole. Hanssen was sent to ADX Florence to live out his term, and is situated in solitary confinement.

Ted Kaczynski – Also known as the ‘Unabomber’, Kaczynski is an American mathematician and serial bomber. His well-known social critiques opposed industrialism and the use of modern technology, and led to his bombing campaign that lasted almost 20 years. From 1978 to 1995, Kaczynski evoked a nationwide bombing campaign which specifically targeted those involved with modern technology. During this time, he killed three people and injured 23 others with his home-made bombs, and is currently serving a life sentence without parole at ADX Florence.

Tim McVeigh – Was an American who was responsible for detonating a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Timothy McVeighBuilding in Oklahoma City in 1995. Commonly known as the Oklahoma City bombing, a total of 168 people were killed in the blast, and over 600 people were injured. It is known as one of he deadliest acts of terrorism within the US before the 9/11 attacks, and is still the worst case of domestic terrorism known in American history.

Reports claim that McVeigh was seeking revenge against the government for their actions during the Waco Siege, which occurred exactly two years before the Oklahoma bombing. He allegedly hoped to inspire a wave of revolution against the federal government, whom he considered to be tyrannical.

He was convicted and found guilty of 11 federal offences and sentenced to death. After his trial, McVeigh was sent to ADX Florence where he was located with other known bombers such as Ted Kaczynski. He was moved to the Death Row unit at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1999, and executed just two years later in 2001. McVeigh unusually requested for his execution to be publicly televised, but this was rejected by the Supreme Court.

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