Colorado State Penitentiary

Coordinates: 38°26′27″N 105°09′29″W / 38.44083°N 105.15806°W / 38.44083; -105.15806
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Colorado State Penitentiary
LocationE US Highway 50 Evans Blvd, Cañon City, Colorado, U.S.
Managed byColorado 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 is part of the state's East Cañon Complex, together with six other state correctional facilities of various security levels.


CSP is located in Fremont County, just east of the county seat 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.[citation needed] This is the site of Colorado's death row, and the 1929 prison riot.[citation needed] After the 1993 construction of the current facility, that prison was re-dedicated as the medium-security Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility.[citation needed] It is located within the city limits of Cañon City.[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 holds the state's lethal injection chamber for execution of the death penalty. The prisoners with death sentences are held on "death row" at Sterling Correctional Facility.[4]

All inmates at Colorado State Penitentiary are held in solitary confinement, officially termed Administrative Segregation (AdSeg).[citation needed] AdSeg inmates are all held in solitary cells on 23-hour lockdown for their entire sentence. Such conditions have been held to be adverse for prisoners' mental health and can aggravate existing mental problems. CSP allows offenders out of their cells for an hour per day, including yard time.

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

Death row[edit]

When the Colorado State Penitentiary opened, death row was moved there from the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility.[5] Colorado has had no physical death row since 2011, when the State of Colorado moved its death row prisoners to the Sterling Correctional Facility.[6] This was done in settlement of a federal lawsuit filed by Nathan Dunlap, a death row prisoner who had complained about the adverse effects of his physical and mental health of the state's lack of outdoor exercise facilities at Colorado State Penitentiary.[5] By state statute, inmates sentenced to death are executed at the Colorado State Penitentiary. Each is held here for the week before a scheduled execution in a separate holding cell located in the execution suite. All prisoners with death sentences are classified as "securest custody level, administrative segregation".[6]

Capital Punishment was abolished by the legislature for any crime committed after July 2020 in Colorado, with the only three men on death row being granted clemency from suffering death by governor Jared Polis.

Notable inmates[edit]

  • Anton Woode, aka "Kid Wallace," - Youngest person in Colorado State history to be tried as an adult. Woode was tried as an adult and was convicted of second-degree murder on March 24, 1893, and he started serving a 25-year sentence at the prison on April 8 of that same year. Woode was convicted of shooting Denver businessman Joseph Smith in the back during a rabbit hunting excursion, after which he robbed Smith of a coveted gold watch and shotgun.[7]
  • Charles 'Chucky' Limbrick Jr. - Convicted of 1st Degree murder in 1988, when he was 15 years old, for the death of his mother in Colorado Springs, and sentenced to 40 years to life. Released from prison on parole in 2011, by orders of Colorado Governor Bill Ritter.[8][9]
  • Scott Lee Kimball - Serial killer, sentenced to 70 years in 2009, held here following escape attempt from Sterling in 2017 until transfer to federal prison in 2021.
  • James Eagan Holmes - sentenced to 12 straight life sentences plus over 3 millennia in prison for the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting in a movie theater, in which he killed twelve people and wounded others.[10] Transferred to USP Allenwood in Pennsylvania.
  • Jack Gilbert Graham - Responsible for bombing of United Airlines Flight 629 carrying his mother, killing all passengers.
  • Benjamin Ratcliff - hanged on February 7, 1896, for the murders in 1895 of three school-board members in Park County.[11]
  • Nathan Dunlap - Sentenced to death in 1996 in Arapahoe County for killing four people during a revenge killing and robbery at an Aurora Chuck-E-Cheese restaurant in 1993.[5][12] Dunlap was granted a temporary reprieve from execution by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in 2013.[13] Dunlap's sentence was commuted to life without parole after the state abolished use of the death penalty.[14][15][16][17]
  • Sir Mario Owens - in 2008, sentenced to death in Arapahoe County for the murder of witnesses of a previous murder for which he was convicted. His sentence was commuted to life without parole on March 23, 2020, after the state abolished the death penalty.[5][14][15][16]
  • Robert Ray - in 2010, sentenced to death in Arapahoe County. He is the co-defendant in the same case as Sir Mario Owens.[5] His sentence was commuted to life without parole on March 23, 2020, after abolition of the death penalty.[5][14][15][16]
  • Freddie Glenn - Murdered actor Kelsey Grammer’s sister, Karen, and two men in 1975. Transferred here from Limon Correctional Facility.

In popular media[edit]

CSP was the focus of the documentary series National Geographic Explorer episode "Solitary Confinement".[18] The episode was first broadcast April 11, 2010.

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.[19]

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.[20]

Further reading[edit]

  • Goode, Erica (March 15, 2014), "After 20 Hours in Solitary, Colorado's Prisons Chief Wins Praise", New York Times
  • Radelet, Michael. The history of the death penalty in Colorado (University Press of Colorado, 2017) online.
  • Sherard, Gerald E. "A Short History of the Colorado State Penitentiary." (2019). online

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility Archived 2014-08-09 at the Wayback Machine." 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 Archived 2010-04-20 at the Wayback Machine." 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. Archived from the original on 2014-08-04. Retrieved 2010-11-22.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Mitchell, Kirk. "Colorado moves death-row inmates so they can exercise outdoors Archived 2012-11-21 at the Wayback Machine", 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. ^ "We Are Cañon City: Unlocking the past of Colorado Prisons". FOX21 News Colorado. 2022-05-04. Retrieved 2024-02-02.
  8. ^ Stanley, J. Adrian (2015-03-08). "A killer — or just a kid?". Retrieved 2015-10-16.
  9. ^ "Convicted murderer found guilty of driving drunk after being released from prison". 2015-10-01. Retrieved 2015-10-19.
  10. ^ Prendergast, Alan (September 21, 2015). "JAMES HOLMES GETTING SPECIAL TREATMENT AT THE STATE SUPERMAX?". Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Doyle, Patrick; Gardner, Natasha (December 2008). "The Politics of Killing". 5280. Archived from the original on 17 November 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  13. ^ Roberts, Michael (2013-06-13). "DEATH PENALTY POLL: HICKENLOOPER'S DECISION TO LET NATHAN DUNLAP LIVE LOSES NEARLY 3-1". Retrieved 2015-10-16.
  14. ^ a b c "CDOC Offender Search".
  15. ^ a b c "Colorado abolishes the death penalty". NBC News.
  16. ^ a b c "Colorado Death Penalty Abolished, Polis Commutes Sentences of Death Row Inmates".
  17. ^ "Colorado becomes 22nd U.S. state to abolish death penalty -". Archived from the original on 2020-03-24.
  18. ^ "National Geographic Explorer Examines the Human Cost of 'Solitary Confinement'". 10 October 2010. Archived from the original on 14 October 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
  19. ^ Wright, William (2013-12-19). Maximum Insecurity. Amazon: William Wright. ISBN 978-1492895206.
  20. ^ "Tallgrass" Dallas, Sandra (page 300)

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