Archive for Sunday, September 22, 2002

Army unveils new federal penitentiary

September 22, 2002

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— Fort Leavenworth officials unveiled the military's new $68 million maximum-security prison Friday, replacing the oldest penal institution in the federal system.

The old prison, which closes this fall, handled the military's most hardened criminals for 127 years.

The new U.S. Disciplinary Barracks will be headed by its first female commandant, Col. Colleen L. McGuire. McGuire started in July and almost immediately began the largest logistical operation of her career.

"Imagine living somewhere for 127 years and then moving lock, stock and barrel," McGuire said.

Everything from the apprentice woodworking shop to parole records and the inmates must move. All 450 inmates will be moved by the end of November.

The new two-story disciplinary barracks has 515 beds and includes a medical clinic, barbershop, chapel, library and laundry facility where inmates will supply most of Fort Leavenworth's military personnel with fresh uniforms.

An 84-bed special housing unit will hold 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 convicted to die by lethal injection. Currently, six inmates are on death row.

Medium- and minimum-security areas have large open areas for inmates to spend free time. In some cases, inmates are allowed to use a gymnasium, baseball field and weightlifting area when supervised by military police.

As the only maximum-security prison in the military system, it will hold all male enlisted personnel with sentences of more than seven years. All male officers, regardless of the lengths of their sentence, also will be confined at Fort Leavenworth. No women are held at the disciplinary barracks.

The prison first opened in 1875 and has been expanded over the years. It was built after the secretary of war called attention to the unethical treatment of military prisoners at stockades and state penitentiaries.

The old barracks sits on 12 rolling acres along the Missouri River. Framed by a rock wall varying from 14 to 41 feet high, the prison's centerpiece is the "castle," a massive dome-shaped brick building that has eight wings and can house up to 1,500 prisoners.

Meanwhile, researchers and engineers will decide what to do with the old complex.

Ideas range from a conference center with guest housing to an urban military training center and archival records center. Demolition has not been ruled out.

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