CCR, Former Corrections Officials, Large Coalition Flood BOP with Public Comments Critical of Experimental Prison Units That Target Muslims, Activists
With No Due Process Communication Management Units Restrict Communication, Forbid Physical Contact with Family
June 2, 2010, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) submitted comments to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) along with Communications Management Unit (CMU) prisoners, concerned family members and friends, former corrections officials, civil rights and liberties groups, legal organizations, psychologists, environment organizations, and community and faith-based groups on behalf of prisoners housed in two isolation units in Indiana and Illinois.
Said CCR Attorney Alexis Agathocleous: “After running the units for years, the BOP has finally opened its CMU policy to public scrutiny, and a coalition of dozens of organizations, individuals, and experts has stepped forward to express grave concerns about these unconstitutional and experimental units. The array of comments being submitted today highlights concerns about due process violations, cruel and inhumane restrictions on contact with family and friends, and blatant religious profiling at the CMUs.”
The public comments challenge the policies, practices and conditions at two CMUs, prison units designed to isolate and segregate certain prisoners in the federal prison system. An overwhelming majority of individuals detained in the CMUs are Muslim; others have unpopular political views, such as environmental activists. The prisoners are limited in their communications and contact with the outside world. The BOP designates individuals to the CMUs with no meaningful explanation and without a way to seek return to the general population, a due process violation that allows for abuse of power, retaliation, and racial and religious profiling.
While the BOP secretly created the CMUs in 2006 and 2008, after multiple legal challenges they opened up a period for public comment as required by law.
In comments submitted on their behalf by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a group of former corrections officials, including a former warden, proposed fundamental changes to the BOP rule. They wrote, “[O]verly harsh restrictions on communications can undermine prison order, cause higher rates of recidivism, and exact a high cost on inmates and their families. Cutting off communication between inmates and their families makes our streets and our prisons less safe.”
While many in the coalition submitted comments today, the period for receiving comments ends officially on June 7, and CCR urged concerned individuals and organizations to submit comments through the BOP website.
On March 30, 2010 CCR filed Aref v. Holder in the D.C. District Court on behalf of five current and former prisoners of the units in Terre Haute, IN and Marion, IL; two other plaintiffs are the spouses of those prisoners. The CMUs were secretly opened under the Bush administration in 2006 and 2008 respectively and were designed to monitor and control the communications of certain prisoners and to isolate them from other prisoners and the outside world.
Transfers to the CMU are not explained or reviewed; nor are prisoners told how release into less restrictive confinement may be earned. Lawyers say that because these transfers are not based on facts or discipline for infractions, a pattern of religious and political discrimination and retaliation for prisoners’ lawful advocacy has emerged. The five plaintiffs in Aref were designated to the two CMUs despite having relatively or totally clean disciplinary histories, and none of the plaintiffs have received any communications-related disciplinary infractions in the last decade. Several of the plaintiffs expect to serve the entire remaining duration of their sentences at the CMU.
In addition to heavily restricted telephone and visitation access, CMU prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with family members – unlike other prisoners, they are forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing their children or spouses during visits. Attorneys say this blanket ban on contact visitation, which is unique in the federal prison system, not only causes suffering to the families of the incarcerated men, but is a violation of fundamental constitutional rights.
Said the 14-year-old daughter of Kifah Jayyousi, one of the prisoners in the lawsuit, “The thing that hurts the most is that I can hear him but I can never touch him. I haven’t hugged, kissed or held my dad since December of 2007.”
Plaintiff Daniel McGowan said, “The feeling of joy I used to get from seeing my wife and being able to hug her at the start of our visit is impossible to describe. It helped us deal with the seven year sentence I am serving to be able to connect, even though we only saw each other a few times a year. This month, it will be two years since the last time I was able to hug my wife or even hold hands. It feels like torture.”
Between 65 and 72 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim men, a fact that attorneys say demonstrates that the CMUs were created to allow for the segregation and restrictive treatment of Muslims based on the discriminatory belief that such prisoners are more likely than others to pose a threat to prison security.
Others prisoners appear to be transferred to the CMU because of other protected First Amendment activity, such as speaking out on social justice issues or filing grievances in prison or court regarding conditions and abuse.
A group of 40 New York University psychologists wrote in comments submitted to the BOP,
“Children must deal with the shame and stigma of a parent’s imprisonment with little if any social support. When conditions of visitation and parent contact are as restrictive as those proposed in the new regulations they serve only to distance the child from the parent, thus effectively diminishing the potential for a meaningful parent-child bond.”
To read comments from CCR attorneys and other groups and individuals, visit the CMU Comments Page.
For information about CCR’s federal lawsuit around CMUs, visit the Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al case page.
The law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP is co-counsel in the case.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.