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Obama’s 2014 Budget Confirms Plans for “ADX Thomson,” New Federal Supermax Prison

April 15, 2013
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Thomson-CC-1From Solitary Watch

The Obama Administration’s 2014 budget request for the Department of Justice, released this week, confirms that the federal government will open a second ultra-secure supermax prison within the next two years. The new prison will be an “Administrative Maximum U.S. Penitentiary.” Administrative Maximum is a security classification currently held only by the notorious ADX Florence in Colorado, where some 400 individuals are held in isolation and sensory deprivation so extreme that it has been challenged in a series of lawsuits and widely denounced as torture.

The new supermax will be created by renovating Thomson Correctional Center, an unused maximum security prison in Illinois, which was purchased by the federal government last year. Originally, the Obama Administration envisioned Thomson as a future home for Guantanamo detainees–a move that was blocked by Republicans in Congress. Instead, while Guantanamo remains open, the Bureau of Prisons is moving ahead with plans to open hundreds, and perhaps thousands of new isolation cells at Thomson to “reduce crowding in high security facilities.”

The following summary appears in a Budget Fact Sheet on “Prisons and Detention,” released along with the federal budget numbers last week:

The FY 2014 Budget requests a total of $8.5 billion for federal prisons and detention, a 3.5 percent increase over the FY 2012 appropriated level. Of this amount, $6.9 billion is requested for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which is a 4 percent increase ($195.1 million) over FY 2012…

For BOP, the current services level includes resources to fully activate two prisons: Federal Corrections Institution (FCI) Aliceville, AL, and FCI Berlin, NH. These prisons received partial activation funding in FY 2012, and full activation will increase federal prison capacity and alleviate overcrowding and related security issues.

Program increases totaling $236.2 million provide for the activations of newly constructed prisons and for new contract beds, allowing BOP to keep pace with the increased number of inmates. Specifically, increases for BOP include $53.4 million to begin activating two prisons: FCI Hazelton, WV (1,280 beds), and U.S. Penitentiary Yazoo City, MS (1,216 beds), for which construction will be completed in FY 2013. There is $15 million to renovate the Thomson Correctional Center and $43.7 million to begin activating the facility as an Administrative-Maximum U.S. Penitentiary in FY 2014. [Emphasis added.] The request also includes $26.2 million to procure 1,000 new contract beds. These resources are essential for ensuring the secure detention of a growing inmate population.

A subsequent section of the Budget Fact Sheet, detailing “Program Increases,” states that Thomson will have 2,100 beds, employ 749 corrections officers, and cost $58.7 million to renovate and operate.

ADX USP Thomson, IL: $58.7 million and 1,158 positions (749 correctional officers)

$15 million to renovate the Thomson Correctional Center for high security federal prison use. $43.7 million to begin activating ADX USP Thomson (2,100 beds) as an administrative-maximum high security facility. ADX USP Thomson is expected to reduce crowding in high security facilities from 59 percent by 43 percent by the end of FY 2015…

Solitary Watch has requested additional information from the Bureau of Prisons to determine precisely what conditions of confinement will be for the 2,100 prisoners held at Thomson. When we asked about Thomson for an article published back in February, BOP spokesperson Chris Burke said in an email that “Thomson will be a high security prison holding inmates with various security needs, including SMU and ADX type inmates.” Federal SMUs, or Special Management Units, such as those found in Lewisburg Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, hold their prisoners in 23-hour-a-day lockdown in two-person cells. At ADX, prisoners are in 23- to 24-hour solitary confinement. Both are forms of long-term isolated confinement, and both have been denounced by human rights and prisoners rights groups as an inhumane and ineffective form of punishment often amounting to torture.

The Bureau of Prisons is planning to open new supermax cells even as it agrees to undergo a “comprehensive and independent assessment of its use of solitary confinement in the nation’s federal prisons.” The assessment, to be conducted by the National Institute of Corrections, will reportedly be oriented toward reducing the population of “segregated” prisoners in the federal system. In fact, according an announcement made in early February, the BOP has already “reduced its segregated population by nearly 25 percent. In addition, it has closed two of its Special Management Units, a form of segregated housing, due to the reduction in the segregated population.” As we reported following the announcement:

When asked by Solitary Watch why the BOP needed to build new supermax cells despite reducing its segregated population, spokesperson Chris Burke replied: “The reduction in our special housing unit population does not lessen the need for these beds.  The Bureau of Prisons has not constructed any new ADX type units since 1994, when our population was only 85,000 (our current population is approximately 218,000).”

He continued: “‘Special Housing’ refers to units within our prisons where inmates are placed on a temporary basis as a result of misconduct or as a result of circumstances that warrant their separation from the general population.” The distinction suggests that Thomson will be used for long-term, sometimes indefinite segregation of the kind common in ADX and the SMUs–in other words, for the most extreme forms of isolated confinement.

The lucrative sale of Thomson to the feds was engineered largely by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin…Ironically, Durbin, the Democratic Assistant Majority Leader, is also widely credited with drawing attention to the issue of solitary confinement and pressing for national reform. In June he chaired the first-ever Congressional hearing on the practice. According to Monday’s press release from his office: “In his hearing last year, Durbin emphasized the importance of reforming the way we treat the incarcerated and the use of solitary confinement in prisons and detention centers around the country. Following that hearing, Durbin has twice met with Bureau of Prisons Director Samuels to push for additional reforms and encourage a sufficiently robust assessment of the Bureau’s segregation practices.”

When asked about the fact that Thomson would include supermax cells, Durbin spokesperson Max Gleischman responded with the following statement: ”As the first member of Congress ever to hold a hearing on solitary confinement, Senator Durbin is committed to reforming America’s segregation policies and practices.  As a part of his efforts, Senator Durbin has met with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and continues to work with its director to reform BOP’s segregation policies and practices.  One important step in solitary confinement reform, and prison reform generally, is to reduce high rates of overcrowding.  The BOP’s acquisition of Thomson prison will greatly reduce this overcrowding crisis and Senator Durbin will work with BOP to ensure that all of its inmates are treated fairly and humanely.”

For more on what to expect from the new ADX Thomson, see Susan Greene’s “The Gray Box” and Andrew Cohen’s “American Gulag” series, both of which vividly describe conditions at ADX Florence.

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