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Can the 'Alcatraz of the Rockies' prison hold Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman?

Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman looks out of a window. Credit: AP

Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman has an unparalleled record of jailbreaks, having escaped two high-security Mexican prisons before his ultimate capture and extradition to the US.

With Guzman convicted of drug trafficking and facing an expected life sentence, where will the US imprison a larger-than-life kingpin with a Houdini-like tendency to slip away?

  • New footage shows El Chapo's extradition to the US

Experts have said Guzman is the ideal candidate for the government’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado - also known as ADX for "administrative maximum".

It is a facility so secure, so remote and so austere that it has been called the "Alcatraz of the Rockies".

The Supermax facility near Florence, Colorado. Credit: AP

"El Chapo fits the bill perfectly," said Cameron Lindsay, a retired warden who ran three federal lock-ups, including the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn.

"I’d be absolutely shocked if he’s not sent to the ADX," Lindsay added.

Located outside an old mining town about two hours south of Denver, Florence’s hardened buildings house the nation’s most violent offenders, with many of its 400 inmates held alone for 23 hours a day in 7ft by 12ft cells with fixed furnishings made of reinforced concrete.

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols are among those who are held there.

The site includes a minimum security Federal Prison Camp, the high security United States Penitentiary, the maximum security United States Penitentiary and the Federal Correctional Institution. Credit: AP

But Guzman, due to be sentenced in June for smuggling enormous amounts of narcotics into the US and having a hand in dozens of murders, would stand out even from this infamous roster because of his almost mythical reputation for breaking out.

  • How has El Chapo broken out of prison before?

His breakouts include a sensational 2015 escape from the maximum-security Altiplano prison in central Mexico, where he communicated with accomplices for weeks by mobile phone, slipped into an escape hatch beneath his shower, hopped on the back of a waiting motorcycle and sped through a mile-long, hand-dug tunnel to freedom.

  • CCTV of the moment infamous Mexican drug lord 'El Chapo' escaped from prison

Bribery is believed to have enabled that jailbreak, as well as a 2001 escape in which Guzman was smuggled out of another top-security Mexican prison in a laundry basket.

El Chapo had escaped prison on this motorbike through a mile-long hand dug tunnel in 2015. Credit: AP
  • How have detectives reacted?

"There had to be collusion from within," said Mike Vigil, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who worked undercover in Mexico.

"There is no doubt corruption played a role in both of his spectacular escapes," he added.

It looks unlikely this would happen at Florence, where prisoners spend years in solitary confinement and often go days "with only a few words spoken to them", an Amnesty International report found.

One former prisoner described the lock-up as a "high-tech version of hell, designed to shut down all sensory perception".

A typical cell at Florence. Credit: AP
  • What are the prison facilities like?

Most inmates are given a television, but their only real view of the outside world is a 4in window whose design prevents them from even determining where they are housed in the facility.

  • Human interaction is minimal.
  • Prisoners eat all meals in the solitude of their own cells, within feet of their toilets.
  • The facility is guarded by razor-wire fences, gun towers, heavily armed patrols and attack dogs.

"If ever there were an escape-proof prison, it’s the facility at Florence," said Burl Cain, former warden of the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary. "It’s the prison of all prisons."

Guard towers loom over the site. Credit: AP

While federal authorities have not said for certain where El Chapo will be housed, he is staring at "a sentence from which there is no escape and no return", said US attorney Richard Donoghue.

Guzman’s confinement leading up to his three-month trial included remarkable security measures.

He has been housed in solitary confinement in a high-security wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, a Manhattan lock-up known as "Little Guantanamo" which has held notorious terrorists and mobsters.

Authorities routinely shut down the Brooklyn Bridge to shuttle El Chapo to federal court in a police motorcade that included a Swat team and ambulance tracked by helicopters.

Heavily armed federal officers and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.

Officials were so concerned about security that Guzman was forbidden from hugging his wife at his trial.

This would not be a problem at Florence, where all visits are non-contact, and prisoners are separated from their visitors by a thick plexiglass screen.