The U.S. sends ‘the worst of the worst’ to ADX. Here’s what happens when they get out from VICE News, Aug. 28, 2019
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The federal prison known as “The Alcatraz of the Rockies” or ADX is in the middle of nowhere, about a two-hour drive south of Denver. It houses many of the most notorious and violent criminals convicted in the United States, including terrorists, spies, mass murderers, and drug kingpins like El Chapo.
Of the federal prison system’s approximately 150,000 inmates, the 375 or so at ADX are often described as “the worst of the worst.” Every prisoner is housed in solitary confinement, most for 22 or 23 hours a day, typically in a 7-by-12 concrete cell.
But while some ADX prisoners are high-profile criminals serving life sentences, others are relative unknowns who are eventually released. And despite multiple warnings and violent incidents, the Bureau of Prisons has sent severely mentally ill inmates home from ADX with virtually no preparation for life on the outside.
One of those inmates was Jabbar Currence, who spent nearly 11 years at ADX. Three days after he was released from federal custody in February, Currence sexually assaulted a woman in a Virginia park. VICE News spoke with Currence and 10 other former ADX prisoners. Each had a different story, but virtually all of them described receiving little or no preparation for returning to society after years of brutal isolation.
At least four besides Currence have been either accused or convicted of serious felonies after being released from ADX. It’s unclear exactly how many prisoners have been let out of ADX over the years and how many of those have gone on to commit more crimes, but independent inspectors found that around 50 inmates at ADX were scheduled to be released from 2017 to 2020.
What happens to inmates after solitary confinement
The problems with ADX reflect a nationwide issue with solitary confinement. An estimated 61,000 people are held in isolation in prisons and jails across the U.S., and it is now often the de facto way to deal with unruly inmates and those with mental illness. Many jurisdictions have no rules in place to ensure that inmates are not released directly from solitary to the streets.
Numerous studies suggest that prisoners who spend time in solitary are more likely to reoffend than those who don’t.
“It made me not want to be around people,” Currence told us. “It made me more angry. It made me more resentful. It made me more thoughtful. I think it made me more of a predator. Well, not predator in the sense that — it just made me angry. Real angry.”
Tim Tuttamore returned to his hometown in Ohio last November after an 18-year prison sentence with 12 served at ADX. In prison, he called himself an “independent skinhead,” and he was sent to ADX because he repeatedly attacked other inmates and was considered a leader among white supremacist gangs at another high-security penitentiary.
He has a long history of mental illness, which he says was made worse by his years in isolation at ADX.
“I went there as a violent person, but leaving there, I was 10 times more violent,” he said. “There’s no rehabilitation. None. They got all these stupid little courses you take. They’re meaningless. It doesn’t help you. It doesn’t help when you get out of prison.”