The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in D.C. on behalf of five prisoners held in solitary confinement in the “Communications Management Units” (CMUs) of two federal prisons. The “experimental” units were supposedly designed to hold high-risk inmates, including terrorists, whose crimes warrant heightened monitoring of their external and internal communications. But the reality, the CCR asserts, is that many prisoners end up in the CMUs ”for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.”
The two CMUs, at the federal prisons in Marion and Terre Haute, now hold about 70 men. They were secretly created by the federal Bureau of Prisons during the Bush Administration, in 2006 and 2007, and have remained intact since the Obama Administration came to power.
Inmates in the CMUs are subject to isolation which in some respects exceeds even that of federal supermax prisoners. According to the CCR:
Prisoners in the CMU, alone out of all general population prisoners within the federal system, are categorically banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children. To further their social isolation, the BOP has placed severe restrictions on their access to phone calls and work and educational opportunities.
What’s more, unlike most supermax prisoners, those assigned to the CMUs are not even accused of any disciplinary violations that might warrant their segregation–for example, attacks on guards or other inmates, or other violations of prison rules. And they receive not even a pretense of due process before being placed--and held permanently--in these extreme conditions. As CCR explains:
All five men confined in the CMU have been classified as low or medium security, but were designated to the CMU despite their relatively, and in two cases perfectly, clean disciplinary history. Not a single one has received discipline for any communications-related infraction within the last decade, nor any significant disciplinary offense.
Like all CMU prisoners, the men received no procedural protections related to their designation, and were not allowed to examine or refute the allegations that led to their transfer. They are also being held indefinitely at the CMU without any meaningful review process. They expect to serve their entire sentences in these isolated and punitive units.
Predictably, the lack of procedural protections has allowed for an unchecked pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory designations to the CMU. Rather than being related to a legitimate penological purpose or based on substantiated information, our clients’ designations were instead based on their religious and/or perceived political beliefs, or in retaliation for other protected First Amendment activity.