How to handle high-profile inmates

During my time as warden of the Colorado Supermax, I dealt with a handful of high-profile inmates

There is currently a tremendous level of national media attention focused on Jared Loughner, the alleged gunman behind the Tucson massacre that left six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, dead, and Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the head.

Loughner is being held in federal custody and faces two federal murder charges and three attempted murder charges in the attack. Once he is sentenced, assuming he is, the media will focus on where Loughner will serve his time.

Based on my experience, I can assume Loughner will spend the remainder of his life at the United States Penitentiary in Tucson or at my former workplace — the federal “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado. Either location would require Loughner to be housed apart from other inmates for his own protection.

During my time as warden of the Colorado Supermax, I dealt with a handful of high-profile inmates, including Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bomber; Richard Reid, the Al-Qaeda “shoe bomber”; Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber; and Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the world Trade Center.

From my experiences with those inmates I can highlight these 10 administrative issues related to housing high-profile inmates:

  1. Professionalism and objectivity should be emphasized with all staff
  2. Review of policies and procedures should be completed prior to his arrival
  3. Staff should be advised of any court orders or special conditions of confinement
  4. Enhanced media attention will occur and should be addressed in a timely manner
  5. Effective lines of communications are needed
  6. Internal and external threats should be taken seriously
  7. The inmate should be observed for potential suicidal tendencies
  8. Staff should watch for aggressive and violent behavior
  9. In general, high-profile offenders shouldn't be treated in a different manner — don't allow inequality between inmates
  10. Watch for radicalization of other inmates, as some may praise the high-profile offender

Regardless of any positive behavior by high-profile inmates, placing them in an open setting (around other inmates) is a major concern to correctional administrators. We have an obligation to protect all offenders, and placing Loughner in a general prison population would clearly be a death sentence — period.

Many inmates would want to harm this alleged offender to gain notoriety, political reasons, or to take justice into their own hands for the death of a child. As corrections professionals, we are bound to protect high-level inmates from other inmates and from themselves.

Editor's note: Please look for a Corrections1 interview with Warden Hood in early July where he will discuss the major trends and topics he observed at the ACA Winter Conference.

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