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Wisconsin Supermax Bans Local Paper

When the southwestern Wisconsin town of Boscobel celebrated the grand opening of a 509bed supermax prison in September 1999, the festive atmosphere was likened to a carnival or state fair so happy were the townspeople to bring in jobs, jobs, jobs. Venders hawked sodas, sausages and supermax Tshirts to about 18,000 curiosityseekers who stood in lines for up to two hours for a chance to gawk at the gleaming new cathedral of incarceration. Boscobel's pipesmoking council president cheerfully hauled trailerloads of tourists from parking lots to the prison in his John Deere. About 3,000 school children, some as young as the fourth grade, toured the facility on class outings.

Two months later, the supermax ingested its first prisoner. By August 2000, 278 of Wisconsin's worstoftheworst were entombed in its bowels, watched 24-hoursaday by a TV surveillance system that focuses an unblinking eye on every cell.

Three 12 foot high razor wire fences stand between the prison and the town. The center fence is electrified. A barren zone outside the fence line is crisscrossed with microwave motion detection beams. And even though the prison's interior yard is open only to authorized staff (the prisoners never get to walk there), the yard is festooned with heavy cables strung from poles to thwart helicopter landings.

With $47.5 million worth of hightech supersecurity protecting them, Boscobelians don't have to worry much about prisoners breaking out. But they worry nonetheless about their weekly news paper going in to the joint.

In fact, they worried so much about Boscobel prisoners reading about their pancake breakfasts or who went to soandso's house for lunch and bridge, they convinced Warden Gerald Berge to declare the Boscobel Dial contraband.

Berge said he's not aware of any prisoners actually having a subscription to the Dial. Be said the ban was meant to prevent prisoners from using information in the paper to prey on vulnerable townsfolk.

Chris Ahmuty from the Wisconsin ACLU calls the policy silly. Unless the prison can demonstrate that allowing prisoners to read the Dial leads to security breaches, says Ahmuty, the policy is unconstitutional.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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