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Archive for Monday, November 18, 2002

New prison more comfortable

November 18, 2002

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— The new maximum security barracks at Fort Leavenworth offers more comfort and quiet than the 127-year-old barracks it replaced, but its chief of staff says it is still definitely a prison.

About 450 of the military's most-hardened inmates were moved into the the $68 million U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth last month.

The new prison has a modern climate control system and solid cell doors with a window, rather than the old cells with bars. That helps keep the prison quieter said Lt. Col. Peter Grande, chief of staff for the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.

But he said despite the modern amenities, the 515-bed facility is still a prison.

"We're not making it a country club," Grande said. "But you have to make it where it's cost effective and it meets your rehabilitation goals.

"Almost every inmate here will be released back to society, so you want them to go through a rehabilitation program. ... If you're in an environment that's not comfortable, he won't try to change."

Some of the changes were made with prison employees in mind, he said.

"If you don't have the working conditions comfortable for the people that work there, they're not going to be happy campers either," Grande said.

The new facility also has a high-tech security system. Rather than relying on guard towers and tall rock walls, the prison is outfitted with closed-circuit television monitors.

The prison is ringed by two 14-foot fences topped with razor wire. The fences are equipped with a system that will set off an alarm if someone tries to climb or cut through the fence. Cameras will automatically begin recording that sector and guards, who are on roving patrol, will respond immediately.

Last week, 437 prisoners, all men, were at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks. Women are sent to the Navy's consolidated brig at Miramar, San Diego.

Enlisted personnel who are sentenced to seven years or more and all officers convicted of a crime are sent to Fort Leavenworth. Enlisted personnel with shorter sentences serve their time at regional confinement facilities.

They come from every branch of the U.S. military, and they have been sentenced for crimes ranging from murder to mail fraud. They are in a military prison because they violated the uniform code of military justice, which is a separate justice system for military personnel.

The new prison at Fort Leavenworth sits on 51 acres on the northern part of the post. Medium- and minimum-security areas have large open areas where inmates can spend free time. In some cases, inmates are allowed to use a gymnasium, baseball field and weight-lifting area when supervised by military police.

A Special Housing Unit can accommodate up to 95 maximum-security and protective-custody inmates, who are restricted to their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

An execution area has been designated for military inmates sentenced to die by chemical injection. Six inmates are on death row.

For those who will leave, there is an extensive vocational training program to help inmates find jobs upon release.

Researchers and engineers will decide what to do with the old complex. Demolition hasn't been ruled out.

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