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Cells made in… prison: for moral or cost reasons?

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Cell production in prison – background information


    CCI for CCI for Colorado Correctional Industries, the manufacturing subsidiary of the Colorado Department of Corrections. CSP II for Colorado State Penitentiary II, the new mega-prison under construction in Cañon City, Colorado.

    Prisoners working in the metal workshops at the Fremont Correctional Facility in Cañon City, Colorado. Prisoners working in the metal workshops at the Fremont Correctional Facility in Cañon City, Colorado.

    Photos © Philippe Brault

    The future mega-prison in Cañon City (Colorado) could well be the face of modern imprisonment: prisoners assembling and welding cells. And the cells themselves are hugely innovative, packed with technology. To isolate the prisoners even more.

    On the site where the future extra high security prison, the Colorado State Penitentiary II (CSP II), is being built to the east of Cañon City, you run into hundreds of construction workers – three hundred and fifty of them to be precise – from every trade. Some of them – twenty to be precise – are kept totally apart from the others. Photographing them is forbidden. They wear construction helmets, but they also have a different uniform from the other workmen. A green uniform. When someone greets them, these workers don’t respond. They’re prisoners. At night they sleep at the Four Mile Correctional, a nearby prison; by day, they push trolleys with gravel in them around the corridors of the future Colorado State Penitentiary II.

    For the first time in the history of the Colorado prison system, ten of them have even been co-opted for a special job, an unprecedented job. Welding cells. Hundreds of cells that have been assembled by other prisoners on the other side of the state prison complex a few miles away at the Fremont Correctional Facility metal workshop.

    Video visiting

    The cells are about ten square metres big. They are built in one piece with a bunk, a toilet and a desk for a brand new system called a kiosk. This will include a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and headphones. This will be the only way the prisoners will be able to receive visits. It’s called video visiting. During our visit, one of the construction foremen told us that the prison would have a real visiting room reserved for visits by lawyers. But the man had no idea where this area would be located when the CSP II is completed (summer 2010).

    The kiosk screen will also show TV programmes and allow penitentiary staff and inmates to communicate with each other. The inmates will be able to canteen (i.e. buy everyday products) by computer and check the balance of their bank account. The aim of this high-tech system is to reduce, as much as possible, prisoners having to move around; they will be confined to their cells for 23 hours a day. These inmates – qualified as dangerous or even extremely dangerous – will only be allowed out of their cells for 45 minutes a day to take a shower and do a bit of exercise in a special room at the end of each gangway. They will never get any fresh air. And when they leave their cells, they will have to be handcuffed and come out backwards through a trapdoor in the cell door.

    In every cell, the clothes hooks and the ventilation grids are suicide-proof: if something too heavy is hung on them, the hooks and grids automatically fall to the ground, making it impossible for a prisoner to hang himself.

    The windows of CSP II are bigger than those in CSP I, which is on the eastern side of the prison complex. The new windows have an opening 4 feet wide, whereas the older ones are only 3 feet across. Here’s what one foreman had to say during our visit: This one’s got a view of the mountains. Others won’t be so lucky; they’ll look out at the wall opposite.

    The total cost of building CSP II is estimated at between 162 and 208 million dollars. The prison opening has already been put back several times due to budgetary problems linked to the recession. The delays mean the wardens’ salaries don’t have to be paid yet. At the beginning of 2010, a Denver senator suggested the empty prison be sold to the private prison industry. This was greeted with outrage. To calm the tensions, just under a third of the 948 places could be filled in the course of 2010.



    Find all the testimonies about high-tech prisons in the film Prison Valley.

    Posted by David Dufresne Prison Valley Team
    Apr 6th 2010 (edited Apr 26th 2010)
    To report corrections and clarifications, contact Prison Valley Team
    video visiting? - this seems a real corner being turned. for the worse.
    Hello..., Video visiting isn't new, that's a privilege for those types of prisons, for those types of prisoners. It's our justice system, nothing more nothing less.
    Our prison system is barbaric. it has nothing to do with justice. it is just a big business that thrives on the backs of human beings. what a disgrace!!
    This is why it is important not to create "prison towns," that lack a moral conscience.. or filled with people who simply figure: "Well, there's always going to be a need for prisons."
    Ha! This is awesome, prisoners building more prisons. No wonder so many are incarcerated it's a selfsustaining industry now! So if an inmate dies, I assume other prisoners dig his grave or are they obligated to dig their own in advance?
    Does Auschwitz ring any bells?
    These almost sound like slavery.
    Well here is one for the books. I was an inmate at the Four Mile Correctional Center located in the Canon City complex just 500 yards or so east of Fremont Correctional Center where they built these cells. While there I worked for CCi (Colorado Correctional Industries - formerly known as Juniper Valley Farms) in the Heavy Equipment branch. Inmates at Fremont would build the cells, transport would deliver them to the construction site in the same complex via inmate drivers, and the inmates working for Heavy Equipment (including myself) would install them in the building. This documentary does not cover the fact that they saved millions by having inmates fly the cells in with cranes and weld them into place. I personally welded over 300 cells together and to the floor. That was my job. I made 90 cents a day doing it because I had just started and was not earning incentive at the time. Inmates who were on incentive made about 150 a month. If they would have had to contract the job out it would have cost a fortune as there are 970 or so cells in that complex. We worked side by side with civilian contractors but no-one was aloud to take pictures of us. We saw the camera crews there but our guards (supervisors) always directed us to another part of the building to work so that they wouldn't see us. I'm very surprised that this aspect was not convered in the film. In any case, they (staff) will try to say that it is a trade that we learn that will help us when we get out but I've been without work for 6 months! They (staff) will try to say that it is beneficial to the inmate but it is only beneficial to them...the industry. While I make no excuses for what I did to go to prison, I have seen first hand the slavery conditions and the reasons behind it. It is not to punish or rehabilitate anymore. The focus is purely that of money, and when that happens the focus of the Justice System no longer is blind. They will do everything in their power to keep the machine of profit moving in their favor. We grew thousands of acres of corn and grapes, produced millions of tons of milk a year, raised thousands of horses, fought wildfires, operated heavy equipment, fabricated metal products and furniture, operated a recycling plant that has a monopoly on Canon City, who can compete with that? And that is all out of one single prison complex in Canon City!
    Hey, Ive been visiting prisoners downunder for some years. Never seen anything like what I see here. Yeah Australia is spending zillions of facilities too, and what can I say, we need to just to lift the standard of living space from buildings 100 years old, still occupied. I have not seen Prison Industry of this scale down here, yeah the odd furniture workshop, shops doing metal farm gates and poly water tanks...........but metal cells.....Yikes!
    you are comparing this to auschwitz and slavery?! thats crazy..these people are in jail for a reason and they are costing the society billions every year to feed etc.
    Since more crimes are beeing comitted it will cost society even more money to build even more prisons, money that america dont have!

    To use the prisoners is a good solution and saves money..

    They are sitting in jail cause of a crime and costing loads of money, its not more then right that they have to work and contribute
    our way of thinking HAS to change, or we will collapse as a society. This is a revolving door, I've seen it with my own eyes. Children growing up without parents, who do they turn to? extremely long sentences even for minor offenses. We are self destructing. The idea that "well they committed a crime and that's why they're there is closed reasoning. The idea that you can just lock up or "throw away" your problems is foolish. It scares me for my children and their children if this is what they will be surrounded by, as a society that is.

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