Government Speaks On Supermax

The federal Bureau of Prisons responds to Colorado Confidential’s Inside Supermax series, and confirms the hiring of a new statistics analyst.The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (Supermax prison, ADX) in Florence, Colorado is staffed at a level that allows the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) “to ensure the safe and orderly operation of the facility.”

That’s according to a statement released by the agency on Friday, Oct. 12, responding to questions raised by a Colorado Confidential investigation into the working conditions at the Supermax, a facility that is managed by the BOP.

In the response, the BOP subtly confirms that duress intercoms are not functioning properly in the facility, a fact workers and union officials say can lead to trouble, because there are not enough people to routinely check on the inmates. The agency also confirmed the recent hiring of a Social Research Analyst for the facility, a position that workers speculate may be used to churn out statistics in the BOP’s favor.

Below is a list of the questions that were directed to the BOP by this author, and the responses that were sent through E-mail.

Q: How the BOP respond to the fact that the agency’s weekly rosters show that whole units have been vacated for more than 16 hours at a time, and that 551 correctional posts had been vacated at ADX from Jul. 29 to Sept. 1st?

A: The BOP does not vacate essential posts. Moreover, at least one staff member is required to make rounds and ensure the safety and security of each housing unit.

The Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) in Florence is staffed at a level that allows us to ensure the safe and orderly operation of the facility as the security of staff and inmates is our foremost concern throughout the agency. Like all Bureau complexes (co-located multiple prison facilities), FCC Florence is funded and staffed as one facility and not as three individual institutions. In total, the complex has 1002 positions authorized with 885 on board (88%) currently. The Correctional Services Department has 583 positions authorized with 536 on board (92%) currently.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that inmates are not being fed on time, and in some cases, are not receiving recreation for the day due to staffing shortages?

A: Staff make every attempt to feed inmates within the time frames established by the institution. These meal times are adhered to unless an institution emergency necessitates the altering of these times. Inmates at the ADX are offered from five to ten hours of recreation per week depending on an inmate’s housing assignment.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that the agency has hired new management positions in the last 6 months, like a Social Research Analyst from New York, but has not staffed the facility with more COs?

A: The ADX is currently staffed at a level that ensures the safe and orderly operation of the facility. Since mid May, FCC Florence has hired 37 new Correctional Officers.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that last year, the Complex Warden updated two conference rooms and a command center to the tune of $30,000 to $40,000 while workers allege they cannot afford printer cartridges or $1,500 for fixing the duress system in units?

A: Each institution is given an operating budget each year. Each department within the institution receives a budget that includes monies for office supplies. Major construction projects, such as the ones you mentioned, are typically funded separately and do not impact a department’s ability to purchase office supplies or to make routine repairs.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that the duress intercoms do not work in some units, leaving inmates at risk?

A: While inmates at the ADX are housed alone in their cells, duress alarms are an added safety enhancement and are not a substitute for staff supervision. Staff are continually present in the units and make rounds through the units at least once every 30 minutes to ensure the safety and well being of the inmates.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that  there are no COs to monitor cameras on the recreation yard?

A: Cameras are located throughout the institution. Their locations and mode of operation (whether taped or live monitored) is not public information.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that the agency will punish COs for talking to the media, and makes an effort to prevent tour attendees from talking to the COs?

A: Each BOP facility has a Public Information Officer who is designated to respond to media inquiries. This ensure that accurate and complete information is given about the facility.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that people in management positions at the facility are telling inmates they are not being fed or getting recreation on time because “COs are lazy,” which builds tension between inmates and COs? Additionally, there are also allegations that the complex warden will come down to the units, and treat the inmates like “third or second-class citizens” leaving the COs to deal with them while they are upset?

A: We are aware of no evidence to support these allegations. Staff at the ADX are professional and perform their duties in a professional manner.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that a sewage spill in the tunnels underneath the cells is making COs sick and has not been sealed off to where contaminated air doesn’t flow into ventilation system?

A: In 2003, the ADX experienced a clogged water line. Since that time three separate agencies, including OSHA, have inspected the area and reported all air and soil samples are within normal levels.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that the Complex Warden has received bonus money for “cutting corners” and saving the BOP money?

A: The BOP does not provide bonus and award information about individual employees, but we can tell you that monetary awards given to any employee are based on merit.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that the prison’s cameras are not maintained and that sometimes COs cannot see who they’re letting out of cells?

A: Staff do not rely on the camera system to open and close cell doors.  The camera system is used to enhance correctional practices, not to replace staff responsibilities in following proper procedures for the movement of inmates to and from their cells.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that the phone logging system is broken, has not worked for months, and that in some cases COs cannot monitor calls from inmates?

A: The phone logging system is operational.  There are sufficient staff and equipment available to monitor inmate telephone calls.

Q: How does the BOP respond to allegations that the agency only classifies assaults as incidents requiring medical attention outside the facility?

A: This is incorrect. In accordance with our policy on Inmate Discipline and Special Housing Units (Program Statement 5270.07) which can be accessed on our website at, assaults are defined by various categories depending on the severity. The two categories of prohibited acts which define assault are Greatest and High.

Q: Does the BOP need more money in its budget?

A: The BOP is funded at a level that allows us to ensure the safe and orderly operation of our institutions.

Q: What are the BOP’s plans and views on staffing at Florence ADX?

A: FCC Florence is staffed at a level that ensures the safety and security of the inmates and staff.

Q: And what will the new Social Research Analyst job entail?

A: The major duties and responsibilities include conducting research, analysis, and evaluation.

The responses were provided by Felicia Ponce, Public Affairs Specialist for the BOP.

Also see:

Inside Supermax Series
Showdown Expected Over Supermax Sewage Spill
Dueling Definitions On Prison Violence

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at