How 2 Killers Changed America's Prisons Forever

The Marion prison lockdown paved way for today's Supermax facilities

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 27, 2013 11:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – These days, nearly every state in America has a Supermax facility, places where killers and terrorists are kept in isolated cells almost constantly, in conditions that have sparked lawsuits and raised the ire of groups like Human Rights Watch. How did it get this way? It all started with two killers in the federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, Justin Peters writes at Slate. In 1983 Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain, fresh off the murders of two inmates, murdered two guards, in a plot aided by other inmates. The rest of the guards reacted by massively tightening security.

Marion went into lockdown mode, with prisoners forbidden to leave their cells save for 90 minutes of recreation a day—spent mostly in the hallway. Anyone causing trouble was chained spread-eagle to his concrete bed. The guards also exacted their revenge in more immediate ways. "I can't describe to you—I never seen beatings like that," a former guard once said. "At least fifty guys got it … I had inmates ask me how long this madness was going to last. And I said, it better be a permanent lockdown, because when you beat a man like that, he's gonna retaliate." It actually lasted 23 years, ending in 2006. By then, the precedent had been set. Click for Peters' full piece.

In this Nov. 13, 2005, photo maintenance employees replace a burned out light in a hallway inside the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Ill.   (AP Photo/The Southern, Chuck Novara)
This Aug. 19, 2008, photo shows the inner and outer security fence surrounding the medium security federal prison in Marion, Ill.   (AP Photo/The Southern, Steve Jahnke)
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