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In Supermax prisons, prisoners are generally allowed out of their cells for only an hour a day; often they are kept in solitary confinement. They receive their meals through "food ports" ("bean holes") in the doors of their cells. Prisoners are given no work and very little access to leisure activities, though some categories of prisoners are allowed to have a television. When Supermax inmates are allowed to exercise, this may take place in a small, enclosed area where the prisoner will exercise alone.

Prisoners are under constant surveillance, usually with closed-circuit television cameras. Cell doors are usually opaque, while the cells may be windowless. Conditions are spartan, with poured concrete or metal furniture common. Often cell walls, and sometimes plumbing, are soundproofed to prevent communication between the inmates.

Supermax and Security Housing Unit (SHU) prisons are controversial, as some claim that they violate the United States Constitution. In 1996, a United Nations team assigned to investigate torture described SHU conditions as "inhuman and degrading".

Proponents say that Supermax prisons offer a way to contain prisoners that could otherwise harm or be harmed by the general prison population, especially more infamous individuals who wouldn't function well in a general prison population.

A Supermax prison intended to fulfill such a role is the Federal ADMAX, or administrative maximum security, prison in Florence, Colorado, west of Pueblo. There, the U.S. government houses a number of convicted terrorists, gang leaders and similar prisoners; September 11th terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui was sentenced to life without parole at Florence upon his conviction on May 4, 2006.


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