Security Inside the Supermax Prison
Former Supermax Prison Warden Bob Hood talks with CSO about the facility where Ted Kaczynski, Zacarias Moussaoui and other famous prisoners reside.
By Katherine Walsh
November 05, 2007 — CSO —
The Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado, is the ultimate prison. As the highest level of security in the US federal penitentiary system, it’s where some of the most dangerous offenders are sent – as well as those most needing insulation from other inmates. Ramsey Yousef, Ted Kaczynski, Zacarias Moussaoui and Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano are there. Only two prisons like it have ever existed in the United States. Alcatraz, which closed its doors three decades before the current facility opened its own, is where the Supermax standard was born.
Bob Hood was Warden of the Colorado Supermax from 2002 to 2005; now he’s part of GE Security’s Homeland Protection group. Hood spoke with CSO Associate Staff Writer Katherine Walsh about the challenges of the job, how technology has changed prison security over the years, and what The Shawshank Redemption got wrong.
What is the difference between a Supermax and a traditional correctional facility?
A Supermax provides segregated long term housing for inmates who are classified as high security risk. A traditional correctional facility would hold nonviolent offenders or drug offenders on the low end.
Describe a day in the life of a prisoner.
They are locked up 22 to 24 hours a day, in a 7x12 foot cell. Psychologists, counselors and education staff make their rounds everyday; the prisoners don’t leave the cell for those visits. All three meals are placed in their cell. We use a sally port arrangement, where bars separate inmates from staff, and then a solid door and a security window. You can open the solid door and walk into an area where you are still separated from the inmate. They have a cement bed with bedding on it, a desk and stool, both made out of cement and a stainless steel sink. There is a shower in each individual cell, and that’s something that you wouldn’t see in a traditional facility. We have to do that for sanitary reasons, but more than that, it’s so we don’t have to transport inmates down the hallway. It’s a safety issue for staff. All their movements are under surveillance, day and night. The only reason an inmate would leave the cell is for a medical issue or visitation. However, visits in the Supermax are always no-contact.
How is it different from solitary confinement?
It’s similar, but the duration is different. Let’s say a fistfight that occurs in a prison; the inmate may be put in solitary confinement for that. But only for one to five days. The Supermax conditions are a classification decision, not a disciplinary decision.