Arizona Department of Corrections

Arizona State Prison Complex - FLORENCE History


The Arizona Prison at Florence was built by inmates and opened in 1908 replacing the old Territorial Prison at Yuma.  Inmates built the prison and lived in tents scattered about the desert during the time it was under construction. The new prison was a distinct improvement over Yuma.  There was no dungeon, no solitary confinement and no snake hole (the Yuma prison's infamous cave for rebellious prisoners). Instead, the prison at Florence had a death chamber. It was located one floor above the cells on death row. The chamber itself was a scaffold, and in the floor, a trap door was constructed, through which the bodies of the hanged fell into a room below. 

In 1933, due to an unfortunate incident of a death row prisoner during a hanging, a reform of Arizona's death penalty condemned hanging prisoners. The new policy was to put prisoners to death by lethal gas. Presently, Arizona Law authorizes lethal injection for inmates sentenced to death after November 15, 1992. If the inmate was sentenced prior to that date, the inmate may choose between lethal gas or lethal injection.

In the first decade of the century, auto travel became popular, and Arizona responded with a program to develop highways and improve existing roads.  Inmates from the prison in Florence were a ready pool of cheap labor.  In October of 1913, seventy-five prisoners arrived by train in Bisbee and were hauled over the pass in mule-drawn wagons to the prison camp in Tombstone Canyon. Prison road gangs built the highway over the mountain pass between Bisbee and Tombstone.  The inmates also improved a stretch of the Douglas Highway, and built a bridge at Fairbanks over the San Pedro River. Today, a concrete monument commemorates the completion of the road. The road is still open, but today it is used mostly by hikers, joggers and cyclists.

The number of prisons over the years has expanded from the original prison site at Florence, to a total of 10 large prison complexes: ASPC-Florence, ASPC-Phoenix, ASPC-Winslow, ASPC-Eyman, ASPC-Douglas, ASPC-Perryville, ASPC-Safford, ASPC-Tucson, ASPC-Yuma and ASPC-Lewis. The Department also operates the Southern Arizona Correctional Release Center in Tucson for Women.  Additionally, there are four private prisons in Arizona which are monitored by the department, ASP-Phoenix-West, ASP-Marana, ASP-Florence-West, and ASP-Kingman. As well, there are two private prison located outside of Arizona, the Diamondback facility in Watonga Oklahoma, and the Reeves County Detention Center III in Pecos Texas.  

The Department's responsibilities not only include the incarceration of over 34,000 inmates in prisons located all over the state, but also the supervision of more than 4,000 inmates who have been paroled or statutorily released from prison before their entire sentence has been served. 

The Department has made great strides in improving recruitment of professional correctional officers. The Recruitment Unit for Selection and Hiring (RUSH) was established to attract more qualified men and women to the job of correctional officer. On May 15, 1984, the governor signed the Correctional Officers Training Bill into law. The Correctional Officers Training Academy (COTA) was established to centralize and enhance training of officers, requiring them to undergo a 360-hour curriculum of academics, self defense, firearms qualifications, fitness, and ethics. The academy is located in Tucson, Arizona.

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