Previously-Secret Prison Docs Show Constitutional Violations in Experimental Prison Units

April 23, 2014, Washington D.C.For the first time, hundreds of documents detailing the Bureau of Prisons’ process for designating prisoners to controversial Communications Management Units (CMUs) are public. The documents had been under a protective order in the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) lawsuit, Aref v. Holder, since CCR filed the case in 2010. 

The CMUs were quietly opened in Terre Haute, IN and Marion, IL in 2006 and 2008, respectively, to monitor and control the communications of certain prisoners and to isolate them from other prisoners and the outside world.  But the documents revealed today show that the BOP did not draft criteria for designating prisoners to the facilities until 2009 and that, even then, different offices within the BOP, each of which plays a role in the designation process, have a different understanding of the criteria. Other documents reveal that the reasons provided to CMU prisoners for their designation were incomplete, inaccurate, and sometimes even false. Discovery in the case also shows that prisoners were told they could earn their way out of the CMU by completing 18 months with clear conduct, but upon meeting that goal, their requests for transfer out of the CMU were repeatedly denied without explanation.  Other documents show political speech was used as a factor in CMU designation. The documents made public today also show that 60 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim, though Muslims comprise only six percent of the federal prisoner population.
“The documents revealed today show that CMU prisoners have been denied due process at every step, from designation to review,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Alexis Agathocleous. “The CMUs impose harsh restrictions on prisoners, including a ban on even momentarily hugging their families. Meanwhile, the BOP has denied hundreds of prisoners, who are mostly Muslim, the opportunity to understand or rebut the rationale for their placement, or a meaningful review process to earn their way out,”
The documents revealed today also show that decision-makers are not required to, and do not, document their reasons for selecting a prisoner for CMU placement. As a result, it is effectively impossible for prisoners to challenge their designation. 
“I was told the reason I was moved to CMU was because of ‘recruitment and radicalization,’ but wasn’t told anything else. I tried to find out more about these allegations so I could challenge my designation, but to no avail,” said former plaintiff Avon Twitty, who has been released from prison since this lawsuit was filed. “Without knowing what I had allegedly done to land in a CMU, I was helpless to challenge those allegations and had no hope of being transferred out.  This lawsuit is my first opportunity to get to the bottom of my placement in a harsh, restrictive, and secretive prison unit.”
In addition to heavily restricted telephone and visitation access, CMU prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with family members and are forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing their children or spouses during visits. The plaintiffs in Aref spent years under these conditions without knowing why and were designated to CMUs despite having relatively or totally clean disciplinary histories; none of the plaintiffs have received any communications-related disciplinary infractions in the last decade.
For further information about CCR’s federal lawsuit around CMUs, visit the Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al  case page or

The law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and attorney Kenneth A. Kreuscher of the Portland Law Collective are co-counsel in the case.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


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April 23, 2014