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The Proposed Prison in Florence, CO: A "New and Improved" Marion

The Proposed Prison in Florence, CO: A "New and Improved" Marion

The United States Penitentiary at Marion, located in Southern Illinois, opened in 1963 to replace Alcatraz, which closed that same year. Marion is the most maximum security prison in the country, the only one with a "level 6" security rating. Marion is also the only U.S. prison that has ever been condemned by Amnesty International for violating the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Despite this international condemnation, Marion has become an experimental laboratory and trendsetter for the entire federal prison system.

Since 1983, Marion prison has been in a state of permanent "lockdown." Prisoners are locked in their cells for 22.5 hours a day, and all standard vocational, educational and recreational activities are virtually nonexistent. The cells are 8' x 10' and contain a tv, bed, sink and toilet. Prisoners are forced to eat, sleep and defecate in their cells. They are also forbidden to socialize with each other or to participate in group religious services. Those who misbehave in their cells (an arbitrary determination made by the guard on duty) may be tied spread eagle and naked, on their concrete slab beds. At other prisons, a typical lockdown may last several days to a week. However, at Marion the lockdown is permanent, and the entire prison has been transformed into a "control unit." The objective is absolute physical and psychological control over the prisoners.

In early 1990 the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced its decision to open a new maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado. Marion is no longer brutal enough for them. The prison in Florence will be designed so that one guard can control the movements of numerous prisoners in several cellblocks by way of electronic doors, cameras and audio equipment. "We'll be able to electronically open a cell door, shut it behind the inmate and move him through a series of sliding doors" says Russ Martin, project manager for the Florence prison. Presently, at Marion, the prisoners can scream to one another from their cells; prisoners have minimal contact with guards when they are shoved food between the bars. In Florence, this "contact" will be eliminated. "These guys will never be out of their cells, much less in the yard or anywhere around here," the Florence City Manager claims. State of the art security technology and new construction materials will ensure near complete isolation. Martin gloats, "Marion learned from Alcatraz, and now we've had 30 years to learn from Marion."

Ground was broken for the $150 million complex on Saturday, July 14, 1990. The giant prison complex (600 acres) in Florence, a town about 50 miles west of Pueblo, will consist of four different level security units: a 250 bed minimum security facility, a 750 bed medium security prison, a 550 bed high security penitentiary similar to Leavenworth, and a 550 bed "administrative maximum" prison far worse than Marion prison. Two units are scheduled to open in 1992 and the other two in 1993. Rough grading (the leveling of trees, etc.) plans were due in August, and actual construction began September, 1990.

It is estimated that the prison will generate about 1000 temporary jobs to the poverty stricken area and about 750 to 900 permanent jobs. Management positions generally will be filled through transfers and entry level jobs with locally hired people. Requirements for guards include 3 1/2 years experience, and they must be between 21 and 35 years old, exceptions being made for medical personnel. The average pay for most positions ranges from $14,500 to $24,700. The prison will generate an annual payroll totaling $44 million. Pueblo Community College has capitalized on this opportunity by "customizing" its "criminal justice" courses to suit the needs of the federal prison. The college is trying to work out a deal where students of these customized classes will be guaranteed an interview with the prison.

Despite BOP claims that the purpose of Marion and Florence is to contain violent prisoners, they, in fact, function to control dissidents. Many are sent to Marion because they have written "too many" law suits, participated in work stoppages, or pursued their religious and political beliefs. U.S. Representative Kastenmeir, the head of the Congressional committee that oversees prisons, recently acknowledged the existence of political prisoners at Marion, and said "[they] do not need the degree of maximum security, that in my view, they're subjected to here." Despite his statements, the BOP plans to transfer most of the prisoners at Marion to Florence and increase the "security" conditions at Florence by way of more advanced and high tech equipment.

In a move reminiscent of the toxic water used to poison prisoners at Marion, the BOP picked an area in Florence that may be equally detrimental for the prisoners health. Just ten miles away in Lincoln Park there is the notorious Cotter Uranium Company. A class action lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court, in Denver, Colorado, by over 340 people against the Cotter Co., Santa Fe Railroad and others claiming diminution of land value due to the contamination. The contamination is not just limited to the railroad site north of Cotter near the industrial park. The railroad sites were used to load and unload substances used and produced by Cotter. A $15 million cleanup has been underway at the Cotter site and in Lincoln Park since 1988, but does not include the railroad sites. The presence and risks of uranium and molybdenum in the water, soil and air is of immediate concern. No health assessment of the area has been conducted. Another lawsuit is being contemplated, by a Colorado Springs law firm, to hold the company responsible for past damages and health risks.

Additionally, there is Portland Cement Company which has a history of mining for rocks, to produce cement, and for coal. Industry manufactured damages caused by milling, mining and other processes related thereto is a subject of future investigation.

Pursuant to a discussion with a public relations man for the BOP, Dan Dunne, Florence is in the "design development stage." Designs for the prison have been approved, but remain unavailable to the public until the actual construction begins. He acknowledges the existence of oil wells underground within the 600 acres. He said that the BOP will have to cap these wells. He didn't know if an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was in progress or was ever going to be done. An EIS is required under a federal law called the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) if one can show that the construction of the prison will have a substantial impact on the environment. The Office of Federal Activities declares that to date only 4 prisons have in fact filed an EIS. This may mean few construction sites were challenged, or some prisons were constructed before this law became effective, or the states or federal government have won their cases when challenged under NEPA. As of yet, there has been no EIS filed with the Office of Federal Activities about Florence. Finally, Dunne stated that the federal government believes in direct contact with inmates, but this would seem to be contradicted by other officials within the BOP. (Dunne's comments are to be taken with a note of caution-when asked if he knew of any possible health hazards at Florence, as there had been a history of health risks at Marion-he said that was what the site acquisition process was for, for the purpose of evaluating the site. He has never even heard of any health problems at Marion.)

Residents in the Canon City and Florence area seem to be overwhelmingly in favor of this new torture chamber. Residents managed to raise $160,000 to purchase the 600 acres for the site; 400 locals gathered for the ground breaking; t-shirts bearing a map of the site that included wind patterns were "sold out" at $7.99 a piece. Although the enthusiastic attitude by many locals is reprehensible, its hardly a surprise. Actually, the townspeople were given a choice between another University of Colorado branch or a federal prison, and they chose the latter. Ten years ago in the U.S. the general climate was to run prison authorities out of town, but now, due to increasing economic hardships prisons are welcomed with open arms. Additionally, Canon City, just 8 miles from Florence, used to be the home of the Ku Klux Klan before it moved to a town just outside of Evergreen, Colorado. Canon City is currently the home of at least 6 state prisons. One of these, Centennial, is also in the control unit construction stage-a state model based on Marion, as well.

Control unit prisons are proliferating. In addition to the state run prisons at Pelican Bay, California, Shawangunk, New York and Ionia, Michigan, the BOP is planning an entire new prison in Massachusetts which promises to cost about $800,000 per prisoners, for construction alone. Sam Calbone, deputy regional director for the BOP, said prisoncrats nation-wide will look to Florence because "this will be a model for other correctional complexes." Newspaper accounts relate that the Florence site will be the first of seven federal prisons to be built across the U.S. in the next six years.

Marion is a violent attack on human rights. Florence aspires to be even worse-an outrage! It should offend the sensibilities of those whose minds have not been poisoned with the foolish and racist propaganda about the "war on drugs" which claims that prisons are the answer to societies ills. It is clear that the BOP wants Marion, and now Florence, as it's terror mechanism. People of good will, people who want a society based on true human values, must work to end the lockdown at Marion and prevent Florence form being built. For more information contact: Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, P.O. Box 578172, Chicago, IL. 60657-8172. (312) 235-0070 (no collect calls).

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