note- hat tip to the editors at Firedoglake/MyFDL for providing the image for this post.

On June 18, 2012, ADX-Florence supermax inmate plaintiffs Michael Bacote, Harold Cunningham, John W. Narducci, Jr., Jeremy Pinson, and Ernest Norman Shaifer, filed a lawsuit against six prison officials and the Bureau of Prisons, “seeking declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to comply with its existing policies regarding the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, and with the requirements of the Eighth Amendment regarding medical treatment for United States citizens and others who have been committed to its custody.”

A photo of Florence-ADX Supermax prison behind massive fences.

ADX-Florence Supermax Prison (Photo: US Bureau of Prisons / Wikimedia Commons).

There are six levels of security in the Federal prison system. While many of these prisons have “Special Housing Units (SHUs) that are in effect jails within the walls of the prison (ie the SHU in Pelican Bay), in the case of ADX-Florence, the entire prison is a supermax detention facility. ADX Florence is the only Level Six prison in the country, and for this reason, it is often called “The Alcatraz of the Rockies.” However, Florence is in some ways worse, because at least Alcatraz had bars, whereas ADX- Florence is nothing but concrete and steel, which compounds the mentally crippling sensory deprivation treatment. In other words, some would argue that the conditions on death row are better than the conditions in supermax.

ADX Florence currently houses approximately 450 men. These men were not ordered to supermax by any jury, team of psychiatrists, doctors or judges. They were placed there due to decisions on the part of BOP staff, and sometimes the decisions are on a whim and totally without regard to the inmate’s mental illness. The detention length is beyond what would pass for a brief stay to correct a bad inmate behavior and can extend into many months or even years.

5. The BOP’s deliberate indifference to the proper diagnosis and treatment of ADX prisoners with serious mental illnesses has resulted in horrible consequences. Many prisoners at ADX interminably wail, scream, and bang on the walls of their cells. Some mutilate their bodies with razors, shards of glass, sharpened chicken bones, writing utensils, and whatever other objects they can obtain. A number swallow razor blades, nail clippers, parts of radios and
televisions, broken glass, and other dangerous objects. Others carry on delusional conversations with voices they hear in their heads, oblivious to reality and to the danger that such behavior might pose to themselves and anyone who interacts with them. Still others spread feces and other human waste and body fluids throughout their cells, throw it at the correctional staff and otherwise create health hazards at ADX. Suicide attempts are common; many have been successful.

Michael Bacote has a history of mental illness that is compounded by his prolonged detention in ADX. He: