New website shines light on dark corners of the prison system

Get in serious trouble, go to prison. Get into some bad shit inside prison -- attacking staff, running heroin, or maybe somebody doesn't like your gang tattoo -- and you go to the hole, also known as solitary confinement or (in prison speak) administrative segregation.

Reporting what goes on inside solitary confinement units or entire supermax prisons can be difficult for journalists -- especially when the prison system (like the Colorado Department of Corrections) doesn't allow meddling outsiders to actually visit the bad boys of adseg. But Solitary Watch, a new website spearheaded by muckraking journalist James Ridgeway and developed by law faculty and students at Virginia's Washington and Lee University, hopes to provide citizens with a better view of the 100,000 or so prisoners now in some form of lockdown in this country.

Solitary Watch features blogs and links to other prison-related sites, research and academic resources dealing with the growing use of supermax prisons in many states -- and a feisty tone that promises some gritty firsthand reporting ahead.

Colorado, of course, is triply blessed with two state supermax prisons -- one brand-new and empty because of lack of funds, as well as the federal high-security complex at Florence that includes ADX, the highest-security prison in the land.

For more on what goes on inside such places, see our Crime and Punishment archive, which includes a profile of Thomas Silverstein , quite possibly the most isolated man in America; a report on suicides in the state supermax; and a top-secret snitch unit that operated inside ADX.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast