7.12.2007

Huh. My 801st post.

Yesterday the fellow clerks and I got a tour of the Department of Corrections (DOC). It was a hell of a day. We started off at Territorial, the oldest prison in Colorado. We saw the liscence plate plant, where every licence plate in Colorado is made. We walked the grounds, where none of the guards were armed. The only officers with weapons were those in the perimeter towers, who kept an eye on the grounds. We saw the infirmiry, where inmates from all over the state were shipped for medical attention. There, we were told not to make eye contact with one of the guys in segregation. "He gets a little... crazy," one of the guards told us. Then they described how they put problem inmates in 4-point restraint, where the prisoner is chained, arms and legs, to the bed by 4 guards, using 7 padlocks. Every 2 hours, inmates in these positions have to be allowed to move, to allow for circulation. If the inmate is compliant, they get to walk around, but if they're noncompliant, they are allowed to move each extremity in turn, still lying on the bed.

Then we went to the Women's Prison, where we were taken to the cell block that houses the prison's dog program. There, the women live with dogs, which they train on a daily basis. The dogs are allowed to eat with the women 3-4 times a week, and are barred from the medical center. Other than that, the dogs and women are inseparable. When we went down to the cell block, the women and their dogs were released from the cells to chat with us. One woman was real talkative, describing how some families send their dogs in for behavior modification, and others are adopted from pounds to be trained and then sent out into the community.

Afterwards, my friend Jayne mentioned how she had recognized the talkative woman; Jayne saw her resentencing hearing, where the woman talked about how she enjoyed the program. "What'd she do?" I asked. "She shot her boyfriend, let him bleed for 4 days, then packed him into a freezer and tried to drop it off at a landfill." "Jesus." Nice lady though. I think she has another 12 or 14 years to serve.

We then went to Fourmile, a minimum security facility housed within a GIANT prison complex, eveloping six different facilities and about 5,000 acres. We were treated to lunch from the culinary arts program, which was a tasty chicken dish with roasted potatoes and vegatables, followed by an amazing pastry dessert. The culinary project was part of CCI, or Colorado Correctional Industries. CCI provides most of the work opportunities for inmates, and we were later given a tour by their director.

The CCI director drove us all over the facility, and chronicled their different projects, including the culinary arts program, a 1200 head dairy farm which provides milk to the prisons and to the general market, a Talipia farm and hatchery, a koi farm, a greenhouse and landscaping business, 600 milking goats for goat cheese, a program that handles 1200 head of wild mustangs and trains them for sale. Each business works on a cash basis and does not get any taxpayer money. It was quite the operation, especially when viewed from the goat pens, which were right in the arkansas river valley, unguarded and unfenced.

For a huge change of pace, we went to the Colorado State Penetentiary, or CSP. CSP amounts to the state's "Supermax" prison, where only high risk offenders go. Unless you're on death row (housed by CSP), your conviction for what you did on the outside can't get you to CSP. You have to have assaulted someone on the inside, been caught with huge amounts of contraband, or be an escape risk. The inmates at CSP are in complete lockdown, allowed out of their cells for 1 hour per day for exercise in an exercise room the size of my bedroom and a shower. The PR Officer explained that the goal of the facility is to restrict prisoner movement as much as possible. Almost all medical and dental work is done on-site. Almost every door is operated from either the main control room or one of the satellite, cell-block control rooms.

We even saw the death chamber, where the execute by lethal injection. The last executions in Colorado were in 1997 and 1967, and there are 2 on death row now. As the PR Officer explained to us how the procedure worked, the door to the death chamber slowly slid shut. Apparantly the camera in the outer hallway was malfunctioning, and there was a new guy in the control room. Fortunately, a few of our tour group members were outside the chamber, and asked for them to open the door on the intercom. "Lucky thing," the PRo said, "There's no intercom in here. If those folks wouldn't have been outside it may have been a while before they started looking for us, maybe not until they checked the log at 5." Yikes.

Every person or item coming into CSP is scanned as it comes into the facility. Contraband is pretty much non-existant. This is in contrast to the lower security facilities, where they switched from sugar to Equal, partially to help manage the diabetics, and partially to make it tougher to brew alcohol (though, paradoxically, busting up stills and undercover breweries is a good thing, because it means there aren't any drugs in the facility. fewer stills = there's a source of drugs from the outside). The PRo even told us of one inmate who is an escape artist, and managed to break out of every type of restraint they have at the facility. To transport him, they use 4 guards and what amounts to a shock collar around his waist. Creepy.

It was an eye-opening day, and one that is not likely to be repeated. The DOC doesn't give tours to the general public, and CSP is completely closed to the media. The only groups that tend to get tours are those in the legislature and in the criminal justice system.

Ah yes, the perks start rolling in...