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Supermax Prison - Supermax prison

The safest custody in the prison systems of certain countries

A prison with highest security ( Super max ) or Management maximum ( ADX ) is a prison of the "control unit" or a unit within the prisons that represents the safest level of detention in the prison systems of certain countries.

The aim is to provide long-term segregated accommodation for inmates classified as the highest security threats in the prison system (the "worst of the worst" criminals) and those who pose an extremely serious threat to national and global security.

Properties and Practices

According to the National Institute of Corrections, a US government agency, "a supermax is a standalone unit or part of another facility and is intended for use by violent or disruptive inmates. It typically lasts up to 23 hours per person day, single cell." Indefinite time. Inmates in Supermax apartments have minimal contact with staff and other inmates, "a definition endorsed by the majority of prison guards.

In 2001, researchers Leena Kurki and Norval Morris wrote that there was no universal, agreed definition for "supermax" and that prisons were classified inconsistently. They identified four general characteristics of Supermax prisons:

  1. Long-term: After being transferred to a Supermax prison, prisoners usually stay there for several years or indefinitely.
  2. Powerful Administration: Supermax administrators and correctional officers have sufficient powers to punish and manage inmates without the need for external review or prisoner complaint procedures.
  3. Solitary confinement: Supermax prisons rely heavily on intensive (and long-term) solitary confinement, which is used to isolate and punish prisoners and to protect them from themselves and from one another. Communication with outsiders is minimal or nonexistent.
  4. Very limited activities: There are few opportunities for recreation, education, substance abuse programs, or other activities that are generally considered healthy and rehabilitative in other prisons.

Prisoners are detained not as a punishment for their crimes, but based on their history or based on reliable evidence of an impending incident, such as B. a gang leader or the leader of a radical movement. These decisions are made as administrative safeguards, and the prisoners in a Supermax are viewed by correctional officers as a threat to the security of the facility itself.

The amount of inmate programming varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Certain jurisdictions provide entertainment for their inmates in the form of television, educational, and self-help programs. Others provide instructors to speak to inmates through the cell door. Some jurisdictions do not offer programming to their inmates. In a Supermax, prisoners are typically only allowed out of their cells for one hour a day (one and a half hours in California state prisons). The exercises are performed indoors or in small, secure outdoor spaces, usually alone or in pairs, and always monitored by the guard. Group exercises are only offered to those in transition programs.

Inmates receive their meals through ports in the doors of their cells.

Prisoners are under constant surveillance, usually with closed-circuit TV cameras. Cell doors are usually opaque, while cells can be windowless. The furniture is plain, common with cast concrete or metal furniture. Cell walls, and sometimes piping, can be soundproofed to prevent communication between occupants.

The prisons of Supermax and Security Housing Unit (SHU) are controversial. One criticism is that the living conditions in such facilities violate the United States Constitution, particularly the ban on the eighth amendment to "cruel and unusual" punishments. A comprehensive 2011 study by the New York Bar Association found that Supermax prisons constitute "torture under international law" and "cruel and unusual punishment under the US Constitution". In 2012 a federal class action lawsuit was brought against the federal prison office and officials representing the ADX Florence SHU ( Bacote v Federal Prison Office civil action 1: 12-cv-01570) alleged for chronic abuse and poor diagnosis of prisoners. and neglect of prisoners who are seriously mentally ill. The lawsuit was dismissed.



An early form of a Supermax-style prison unit appeared in Australia in 1975 when "Katingal" was built at the Long Bay Correctional Center in Sydney. Katingal was called an "electronic zoo" by inmates and was a prison block with the highest level of security. Forty prison cells had electronic doors, surveillance cameras, and no windows. It was closed two years later due to human rights concerns. Since then, some maximum security prisons have also been completely closed, while others have been built and dedicated to the Supermax standard. In September 2001, the Australian state of New South Wales opened a facility in the Goulburn Correctional Center according to the Supermax standard. While his condition is an improvement over Katingal's in the 1970s, this new facility is nonetheless designed on the same principle of sensory deprivation. It was set up for AA prisoners who have been identified as a risk to public safety and the instruments of government and civil order, or who are believed to be incapable of rehabilitation. Corrections Victoria, in the state of Victoria, also operates the Acacia and Melaleuca units at Barwon Prison, which are used to hold the prisoners who need the highest levels of security in that state, including personalities from the Melbourne Gangland such as Tony Mokbel and Carl Williams who are in the Acacia unit were murdered in 2010.


In 1985, the São Paulo state government built an annex to a psychiatric prison hospital to house the region's most violent inmates and set up the Taubaté Prison Rehabilitation Center, also known as Piranhão. Previously, high-risk inmates were held in a prison on the island of Anchieta. However, after a bloody massacre, this was stopped. In Taubaté, inmates spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement and 30 minutes a day with a small group of seven to ten inmates. Inmates were mistreated on a daily basis, which led to severe psychological impairments.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Brazil faced major challenges with gang structures in its prisons. The Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) gang gained prominence in the prison system and had new members in the prisons. Riots were widespread and gang culture became uncontrollable, leading the authorities to adopt the controversial Disciplinar Diferenciado (RDD) regime, a culture based on disciplinary punishment.


The Stammheim prison in Stuttgart was opened in 1964 as a Supermax prison. In 1975 an additional wing was built to house members of the radical left militant faction of the Red Army. At the time, it was considered one of the safest prisons in the world.

United Kingdom

Her Majesty's British Prison Service in England and Wales has a long history of controlling high-risk prisoners. Prisoners are divided into four main classifications (A, B, C, D), with A being "highly dangerous" and a high risk of escaping to Category D, where inmates "can be reasonably trusted in open conditions".

The British government formed the Control Review Committee in 1984 to allow regulation of long-term disruptive prisoners. The committee proposed special units (so-called CRC units), which were officially introduced in 1989 to control the successful reintegration of highly disruptive prisoners. After a series of escape attempts, riots and official investigations, the units were shut down in 1998. They should soon be replaced by Close Supervision Centers (CSC), which should relieve the long-term prisons that are still in use today. It was reported that 60 of the UK's most dangerous men were detained in 2015.

United States

Alcatraz Island is a historical prototype of the Supermax prison standard.

The US prison Alcatraz Island, opened in 1934, is considered a prototype and early standard for a Supermax prison. A push for Supermax prisons began in 1983 after two correctional officers, Merle Clutts and Robert Hoffman, were stabbed to death by inmates at federal prison in Marion, Illinois. Norman Carlson, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, advocated a new type of prison to isolate uncontrollable inmates who "show absolutely no concern for human life." USP Marion was the first "Supermax" prison where inmates were isolated in their cells for 23 hours. By 1999, the United States contained at least 57 Supermax facilities spread across 30 to 34 states.

In recent years, some US states have downgraded their Supermax prisons, as has Wallens Ridge State Prison, a former Supermax prison in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Other Supermax prisons, known for their harsh conditions and associated litigation from inmates and attorneys, include the former Boscobel (in Wisconsin) now known as the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (Red Onion State Prison) (in West Virginia, Wallens Ridge State's twin (Prison), Tamms (in Illinois), and the Ohio State Penitentiary. The mediation policies at the Ohio facility were the subject of US Supreme Court proceedings in 2005 ( Wilkinson versus Austin ), in which the Court ruled that there must be some, but very limited, due process for the Supermax mediation.

There is only one Supermax prison left in the US federal prison system, ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado. It houses numerous inmates who have behaved violently in other prisons in the past with the aim of moving them from solitary confinement (up to 23 hours a day) to a less restrictive prison within three years.

However, it is best known for housing multiple inmates who have been deemed either too dangerous, too high profile, or too large for a national security risk, even for a maximum security prison. These include several prisoners convicted of domestic and international terrorism, such as Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who carried out the bombing of Oklahoma City; Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who separately attempted to detonate explosives on a commercial airplane flight; Theodore Kaczynski ("Unabomber"), who carried out a campaign of mail bombs; and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted of bombing the 2013 Boston Marathon. Other notable inmates include Robert Hanssen, convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union, and El Chapo, a Mexican drug lord convicted in 2019.

Many states have now established Supermax prisons, either as stand-alone facilities or as secure units in prisons with less security. Supermax state prisons include Pelican Bay, California and Tamms, Illinois. In 2006, USP Marion, the original model for the modern Supermax prison, was downgraded to a medium security prison. California's Corcoran State Prison (COR) is a hybrid model that includes a Supermax partition that houses or has housed high security prisoners like Charles Manson.

Cost-benefit analysis of Supermax prisons

There is no fixed definition of a Supermax prison. However, the United States Department of Justice and the National Institute of Corrections agree on their purpose: "These units basically serve the same function: long-term, segregated inmates classified as the highest security risks in a state's prison system."

Cost of running a Supermax prison

Building a Supermax prison, or even retrofitting an existing prison, is expensive. The ADX Florence cost $ 60 million to build when it opened in 1994.

Compared to a maximum security facility, Supermax prisons cost about three times as much on average. The average annual inmate cost at the Colorado State Penitentiary, a Supermax facility, was $ 32,383 in 1999, compared to the annual inmate cost of $ 18,549 at the Colorado Correctional Center, a maximum security prison (less than twice as expensive). The increased costs are due to the technology required to maintain a Supermax: high security doors, fixed walls and sophisticated electronic systems, as well as the need to hire more people to maintain the buildings and facilities. There are additional costs that are harder to measure. Supermax facilities have had mental and psychological problems with their inmates in the past.

Prisons with Supermax facilities

North America



United States

Most of these facilities only contain Supermax wings or sections, while other parts of the facility are less subject to security measures.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • new York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

South America


In Brazil this became known under the acronym RDD "Regime Disciplinary Diferenciado" (differentiated disciplinary regime), which is based heavily on the Supermax standard and primarily for inmates is intended who are able to continue their criminal syndicate or order criminals to act within the prison system when locked in normal high-security prisons that allow contact with other inmates. Since its inception, the following prisons have been prepared to accommodate RDD inmates:

  • Presidente Bernardes (Presidente Bernardes, São Paulo, Brazil) provisional readjustment center - inspired by the Supermax standards, although prisoners can only stay there for a maximum of 2 years. Part of the prison system of the Brazilian state of São Paulo.
  • Catanduvas Federal Prison (Catanduvas, Paraná, Brazil) - also based on the Supermax standards. It is the first federal prison in Brazil to accept prisoners deemed too dangerous to be held in state prison systems (in Brazil, both state courts or federal judges usually serve their sentences in the States). Run prisons; the federal prison system was created to treat only the most dangerous prisoners in Brazil, such as: B. Big drug masters convicted by either federal justice or the judiciary of a state.
  • Campo Grande Federal Prison (Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil) - the second of two Brazilian federal prisons based on the Supermax specifications.


  • Penitenciaría de Cómbita (Colombia) - follows the Supermax specifications, houses terrorists and drug lords.
  • Establecimiento Penitenciario de Alta and Mediana Seguridad de Girón EPAMSGIRON.


  • Leopoldov Prison - (Leopoldov, Slovakia) A 17th century fortress built against Ottoman Turks and converted into a maximum security prison
  • Portlaoise Prison (Portlaoise, Ireland) - One of the safest prisons in Europe, protected all day by members of the Irish Defense Forces. Detained many convicted IRA prisoners.
  • Nieuw Vosseveld - Dutch maximum security prison in Vught
  • Stammheim Prison - German maximum security prison, partially built to hold Red Army faction terrorists in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Politigårdens Fængsel - (Copenhagen - Denmark) In the prison of the central police station of Copenhagen there are 25 cells with maximum security
  • East Jutland State Prison - (Horsens - Denmark) - maximum security prison. Holds many of Denmark's most dangerous criminals.
  • Penal Colony № 6 Federal Prison Service - Sol-Iletsk - Russia - Correctional Facility in Sol-Iletsk, Orenburg Oblast, Russia.
  • Kumla Prison, Hall Prison, and Saltvik Prison - Sweden - All three prisons have a similar security unit called Fenix ​​that can accommodate 24 inmates.
  • Sassari District Prison "Giovanni Bacchiddu" in Bancali, Sardinia (Italy). Accommodation of around 90 high security criminals, all subject to the provisions of the Article 41 bis prison regime, detained in separate wards, each with 4 cells, a small courtyard and a video conference room where they can be interrogated and investigated in judicial proceedings without going to prison leave. This specially designed Supermax was built to replace the old maximum security prison on Asinara Island, known as the "Italian Alcatraz", which was closed in 2002.

United Kingdom

  • Belmarsh - London, England, United Kingdom - many of the terrorists in the 2006 transatlantic plane plot are detained there.
  • Frankland - Durham, England, United Kingdom - Maximum security prison with a special unit for prisoners suffering from dangerous and severe personality disorders.
  • Full Sutton - York, England, United Kingdom - Maximum Security Prison.
  • Long Lartin - Worcestershire, England, UK - Maximum Security Prison.
  • Maghaberry - Lisburn, Northern Ireland, UK - Maximum Security Prison
  • Manchester - Strangeways, Manchester, England, United Kingdom - Maximum security prison with a special unit for prisoners suffering from dangerous and severe personality disorders.
  • Prison Shotts - Shotts, Scotland, United Kingdom - Maximum Security Prison. Holds some of the UK's most dangerous and violent criminals.
  • Whitemoor - March, Cambridgeshire, England, UK - is home to up to 500 of the UK's most dangerous criminals. There is a unit known as the "Close Supervision Center" which is referred to as a "prison within a prison". There is a special unit for prisoners with dangerous and severe personality disorders.
  • Wakefield - Wakefield, England, United Kingdom - Maximum security prison with a "Close Supervision Center". It is called "The Monster Mansion" because of the many high profile convicted murderers incarcerated there.
  • Woodhill - Milton Keynes, England, United Kingdom - Maximum security prison with a specialized "Close Supervision Center".



  • Gyeongbuk North Second Correctional Center (Prison), Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
  • KEMTA, Taiping, Perak Malaysia
  • Al Hayer Prison (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
  • Bilibid Prison (Manila, Philippines) - Large maximum security prison with approximately 17,000 to 20,000 convicted prisoners.
  • Nusa Kambangan Correctional Facility, Central Java, Indonesia - Supermax prison built during the Dutch era and now under the Ministry of Law and Human Rights
  • Black Dolphin - Russian maximum security prison for convicts sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • White Swan - Russian maximum security prison for convicts sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • The correctional and rehabilitation center Al-Muwaqqar II is a maximum security prison with 240 cells in Jordan, see also correctional facilities in Jordan. It was designed to keep incorrigibly violent inmates in separate isolation cells.
  • Khao Bin Central Prison, Ratchaburi, Thailand - Supermax facility will open in the first half of 2014.


  • Goulburn Correctional Center - Full Supermax prison, the highest level of security in Australia - 75 bed center (Goulburn, New South Wales).
  • Casuarina Prison - Special Handling Unit (SHU) (Perth, Western Australia)
  • Her Majesty's Prison Risdon - 8 Cell Tamar Unit (Risdon Vale, Tasmania)
  • Her Majesty Barwon's Prison - Barwon Supermax (Lara, Victoria)
  • Port Phillip Prison - Charlotte Unit (Truganina, Victoria)
  • Brisbane Correctional Center - 18-cell unit for maximum security (Brisbane, Queensland)
  • Alexander Maconochie Center - 12 Cell Supermax Department (Hume, Australian Capital Territory)
  • Yatala Labor Prison - G Division (Northfield, South Australia)
  • Alice Springs Correctional Center - 12 Cell Supermax Unit (Alice Springs, Northern Territory)

Popular media

The film Escape plan with Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Caviezel is based on an oceanic "Supermax facility".

In various Marvel comics, "The Raft" is the name of a Supermax prison near Ryker's Island, which houses the most dangerous heroes and villains. It is later mentioned in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and appears in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although it was modified to appear as a floating, fully submersible prison.

See also


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