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Most people and most towns don't want to have a Hannibal Lecter as a next-door neighbor. But residents of this town less than 10 miles from the famous Royal Gorge think differently.
Practically every villain from the headlines of the past quarter-century — from the unabomber to the shoe bomber to the Olympic Park bomber — has found a concrete home a few miles outside this town in a quiet valley at the foot of the Wet Mountains.
What has been dubbed by some as "Little Siberia" includes — according to local and state officials — nine state prisons, four federal correctional facilities and one county jail.
All of this in a relatively small south-central Colorado county whose population barely exceeds 46,000.
Never mind that about 20 percent of this population actually resides behind bars. Locals tend to see in this as an advantage rather than a liability.
Add to that one more state penitentiary under construction, a guard training academy, various correctional bureaucracies and a prison museum — and the picture will be complete.
"More than half the jobs in Fremont County stem from the corrections industry," proudly proclaims the county's official Web site.
The public was elated and local politicians hailed it as a political coup when the decision to build Supermax in Florence came through.
"I am not surprised," smiles Harry B. Johnson, a retired warden whose family collectively spent 72 years working in the local prison system. "It is a very steady industry, an environmentally clean industry with stable jobs that has seen nothing but growth over the years."
Numbers bear him out. The U.S. prison population has risen eightfold since 1970 and now totals more than 2.2 million, according to government statistics, and indications are the trend is not about to be reversed.
As of January 31, 2006, there were 28,243 people under the jurisdiction of the
Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC): 18,429 in state and private prisons,
2,407 in community corrections, 496 in jail awaiting transfer to DOC, 267
escapes/walkaway and 6,644 on parole. The prison population has increased 604%
since 1980. During the same time, the population of the state increased 59%.