Colorado State Penitentiary

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Colorado State Penitentiary
Location E US Highway 50 Evans Blvd, Cañon City, Colorado, U.S.
Capacity 756
Opened 1993
Managed by Colorado Department of Corrections

Colorado State Penitentiary (commonly abbreviated CSP) is a Level V maximum security prison in the U.S. state of Colorado. The facility stands in the state's East Cañon Complex with six other state correctional facilities of various security levels.


CSP is located in Fremont County, just east of Cañon City, Colorado. It is one of 25 prisons in the Colorado Department of Corrections system, and one of seven in and around Cañon City.

The oldest of the seven, originally built in 1871 and predating Colorado's statehood, was the original State Penitentiary, the home of Colorado's death row, and the site of the 1929 riot. After the 1993 construction of the current facility, that prison was re-dedicated as the medium-security Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility. It stands within the Cañon City city limits.[1]

Other prisons in the East Cañon Complex include the Arrowhead Correctional Center, the Centennial Correctional Facility, Four Mile Correctional Center, the Fremont Correctional Facility, and Skyline Correctional Center, all nearby in unincorporated Fremont County. The Colorado Women's Correctional Facility near Cañon City in unincorporated Fremont County was decommissioned on June 4, 2009.[2][3]

Today CSP houses some of Colorado's most dangerous, most violent and most disruptive prisoners. It also houses the Lethal Injection Chamber, although the prisoners who were sentenced to death are currently housed at Sterling Correctional Facility.[4]

All inmates[citation needed] at Colorado State Penitentiary are under solitary confinement, officially termed Administrative Segregation (AdSeg). AdSeg inmates are all held in solitary cells on 23-hour lockdown. However, CSP was expected to begin housing a small number of high security inmates in 2012.

As of 2011 the prison has 984 prisoners.[5]

Death row[edit]

When the Colorado State Penitentiary opened, death row moved there from the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility.[5] Currently the state of Colorado has no designated death row[6] since 2011 when the State of Colorado moved its death row prisoners to the Sterling Correctional Facility in order to settle a federal lawsuit filed by Nathan Dunlap, a death row prisoner who had successfully complained about the state's lack of outdoor exercise facilities at Colorado State Penitentiary.[5] By state statute death-row inmates are executed at the Colorado State Penitentiary where they spend the week before the terminated execution in a separate holding cell situated in the execution suite. All prisoners with death sentences are given classifications of "securest custody level, administrative segregation".[6]

Publicly known inmates[edit]

Death Row inmates

  • Benjamin Ratcliff - hanged on February 7, 1896, for the murders in 1895 of three school-board members in Park County[10]
  • Nathan Dunlap - in 1996, sentenced to death in Arapahoe County for killing four people during a revenge killing and robbery at an Aurora Chuck-E-Cheese restaurant in 1993.[5][11] Dunlap's execution is set out since he has been granted temporary reprieve by Colorado State's governor John Hickenlooper in 2013.[12]
  • Sir Mario Owens - in 2008, sentenced to death in Arapahoe County for the murder of seven witnesses of a previous murder that he was also convicted of.[5]
  • Robert Ray - in 2010, sentenced to death in Arapahoe County. He is the co-defendant in the same case as Sir Mario Owens.[5]

In popular media[edit]

CSP was the focus on the documentary series National Geographic Explorer episode "Solitary Confinement".[13][14] The episode was first broadcast April 11, 2010.[14]

The original penitentiary was the subject of the 1948 semi-documentary Canon City, chronicling the December 30, 1947, prison break of 12 inmates. Principal filming was conducted in the prison and environs of Cañon City six months after the actual event.

Maximum Insecurity, an Amazon bestseller, gives an inside look at the medical system at the Colorado State Penitentiary.[15]

In Tallgrass, a novel by Sandra Dallas, Bobby Archuleta, a beet farmer who confesses to raping and killing his sister-in-law, a teenage girl with polio, is sent to the Colorado State Penitentiary after confessing.[16]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility." Colorado Department of Corrections. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "125 West US 50 Canon City, CO, 81215."
  2. ^ Mitchell, Kirk. "Cañon City women's prison closes today." The Denver Post. June 4, 2009. Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  3. ^ "GDE Testing Centers by City." Colorado Department of Education. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "Colorado Women's Correctional Facility 3800 Grandview Ave. | Canon City, CO 81215."
  4. ^ Jones, Susan. "Colorado State Penitentiary". Colorado Department of Corrections. Retrieved 2010-11-22. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Mitchell, Kirk. "Colorado moves death-row inmates so they can exercise outdoors Archived 2015-09-19 at WebCite", Denver Post. 28 July 2011. Retrieved on April 19, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Death Row FAQ. Colorado Department of Corrections. Retrieved on August 15, 2010 (Archive. Retrieved on July 6, 2015)
  7. ^ Stanley, J. Adrian (2015-03-08). "A killer — or just a kid?". Retrieved 2015-10-16. 
  8. ^ "Convicted murderer found guilty of driving drunk after being released from prison". 2015-10-01. Retrieved 2015-10-19. 
  9. ^ Prendergast, Alan (September 21, 2015). "JAMES HOLMES GETTING SPECIAL TREATMENT AT THE STATE SUPERMAX?". Retrieved September 21, 2015. 
  10. ^ Laura King Van Dusen, "Benjamin Ratcliff: Park County Pioneer, Civil War Veteran, Triple Murderer; What Happened and Why", Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2013), ISBN 978-1-62619-161-7, pp. 127-134.
  11. ^ Doyle, Patrick; Gardner, Natasha (December 2008). "The Politics of Killing". 5280. Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  12. ^ Roberts, Michael (2013-06-13). "DEATH PENALTY POLL: HICKENLOOPER'S DECISION TO LET NATHAN DUNLAP LIVE LOSES NEARLY 3-1". Retrieved 2015-10-16. 
  13. ^ "National Geographic Explorer Examines the Human Cost of 'Solitary Confinement'". 10 October 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  14. ^ a b "Solitary Confinement", National Geographic Explorer, Internet Movie Database, retrieved 26 November 2012 
  15. ^ Wright, William (2013-12-19). Maximum Insecurity. Amazon: William Wright. ISBN 978-1492895206. 
  16. ^ "Tallgrass" Dallas, Sandra (page 300)

Coordinates: 38°26′27″N 105°09′29″W / 38.44083°N 105.15806°W / 38.44083; -105.15806