September 1, 2010
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
Colorado already has hundreds of “administrative segregation” cells, and Colorado State Penitentiary’s ad seg unit is becoming notorious since National Geographic filmed a show on solitary confinement there. The state is also broke, making deep cuts to education and other public services. Nevertheless, following a protracted budget battle, Colorado came up with more than $10 million to open one tower of its new high-security penitentiary–officially part of the Centennial Correctional Facility, but widely known as CSP II.
The opening of CSP II will bring more than 200 new jobs to the Cañon City area, which already has 23 prisons and few other job opportunities. (Cañon City is the subject of the ”web documentary” Prison Valley.) Unsurprisingly, the report in the local paper, the Cañon City Daily Record quotes the company line from the state Department of Corrections, which insists the ad seg cells are urgently needed.
After years of waiting and building, one tower of the expanded Centennial Correctional Facility is ready for its first round of inmates.
“There’s a lot of history with this from lawsuits to being our own supervising agent on the project,” said DOC Executive Director Ari Zavaras on Wednesday at the dedication ceremony. “There are a lot of things that went into it.”
The expansion, which was originally built under the name Colorado State Penitentiary II, is a high security prison. When the facility is fully open, it will house 948 administrative segregation inmates.
The one tower that is currently opening — no plans are yet in place to open the other two towers — will house 316 inmates by Sept. 30. Beginning Sept. 1, the facility will begin accepting 15 inmates a day through the end of the month. About half the inmates, 150 will come from the statewide administrative segregation wait-list and 166 will come from the Colorado State Penitentiary, making room for that facility to house the system’s mentally ill inmates.
The expansion’s opening has been bumped several times throughout the past seven years — most recently because of funding issues during the state’s budget crisis, which would have prevented staffing it. This spring, the General Assembly approved $10.8 million to open the tower…
Ground was broken on the facility in August 2007 after lengthy court battles challenging legislation signed by then-Gov. Bill Owens authorizing the construction in 2003.
Attorney General John Suthers said the opening was overdue and that adequate high security beds are absolutely essential for the safety of everyone — inmates and officers — in Department of Corrections. The expansion, Suthers said, is a “much needed addition to the Colorado Department of Corrections.”
“We will all be a lot better off with this facility,” Zavaras said. “We have a very solid program in place. This is an essential tool.”
To get a glimpse (and surely not the worst) of what life will be like in CSP II, take a look at National Geographic Explorer: Solitary Confinement.