Warden gets national award months after deadly Colorado prison riot

Three months after a deadly Florence penitentiary yard riot that left two inmates dead, prison warden Sara Revell was given an annual Excellence in Prison Management award by the the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The discovery comes after it was reported by The Colorado Independent on Thursday that the same high-security penitentiary has been on lockdown since early August due to a violent inmate-on-inmate assault.

Bureau officials have confirmed that Revell, who has been working at the prison since April 2007, was given the award in July.

“This award recognizes outstanding contributions by a warden in the overall management of staff, inmates and general operations,” said Felicia Ponce, a spokeswoman for the bureau.

A media release was not issued about the award, according to Ponce.

Approximately 200 inmates were involved in a yard riot that occurred at the prison on April 20, ending with two inmates dead from guard gunfire and an immediate lockdown of the facility.

The bureau previously confirmed that the racially-motivated melee was incited when some white supremacist inmates, armed with shanks and makeshift weapons, were “celebrating” Adolf Hitler’s birthday with homemade hooch.

Bureau documents obtained by The Colorado Independent from sources inside the prison show that guards used a heavy arsenal of weaponry on the inmates during the riot, releasing more than 200 M-16 rounds, shooting more than 300 pepper balls filled with chemical irritants and launching nearly a dozen long-range CS tear-gas canisters at the inmates.

On Aug. 10, the prison was put on lockdown again due to an inmate-on-inmate assault and has remained that way, which means that inmates are generally confined to their housing units or cells according to bureau officials, who would not elaborate further on the incident.

Only a prison’s warden has the power to decide when a lockdown ends, and bureau officials have said they do not know when the penitentiary will resume normal operations.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, demanded this week that the bureau release details of its investigation into the riot, but the bureau is claiming that investigation is not yet completed and has said that official investigation findings will only be released via a formal written request, a process that can take months or longer.

Read The Colorado Independent’s continuing coverage on prison unrest, management trouble and environmental problems at the federal penitentiary.

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 erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.