September 28, 2017, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School released a report documenting the U.S. government’s use of a secretive form of extreme isolation in federal prisons.
The report, The Darkest Corner: Special Administrative Measures and Extreme Isolation in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, documents the imposition of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) on prisoners in federal custody, which compound the debilitating effects of solitary confinement and impose near-total isolation. The restrictions prohibit prisoners’ contacts and communications with all but a handful of government-approved individuals, and impose a second gag order on even those few individuals who can have contact with a prisoner subject to SAMs. The Attorney General has sole discretion to impose and extend SAMs, which can be authorized for up to a year at a time and reauthorized indefinitely, and prisoners have no meaningful avenue to challenge the designation.
The report documents that some prisoners have been living under these conditions for decades. It also underscores how SAMs have been disproportionately imposed on Muslims, representing the extreme end of a spectrum of “counterterrorism” measures that have targeted Muslims since 9/11, and the particular risks for abuse under the current administration.
“SAMs constitute the most extreme form of isolation known to exist in the U.S. federal prison system,” said Allison Frankel ’17, a student author of the report. “Advocates on both sides of the aisle have criticized President Trump for vowing to ‘bring back torture,’ but the torture of SAMs and indefinite solitary confinement never went away. Right now, the only thing protecting prisoners from being placed under SAMs is the discretion of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
Under SAMs, a prisoner’s communications are limited to his attorneys and government-approved immediate family members, and, even then, contact is infrequent and subject to intensive government monitoring. The few immediate family members and attorneys allowed contact with a SAMs prisoner face the threat of criminal prosecution for repeating the prisoner’s words to anyone else, and there is an explicit prohibition on all forms of contact with the media.
“SAMs not only shrink the entirety of a prisoner’s world to the four corners of his cell; they prevent anyone from shining a light on what happens within,” said Andrew Walchuk ’17, another student author of the report. “The press has no way of reaching SAMs prisoners, and the only other people with insight are too nervous or afraid to speak,” Walchuk explained. “The chilling effect of SAMs is pervasive and near-total. There is so much fear among family members and even lawyers that saying anything could result in prosecution.”
This lack of transparency surrounding SAMs invites abuse and discrimination, the report warns. FOIA documents, case files, and interviews suggest that the government disproportionately uses SAMs on Muslims.
“The potential for discriminatory use of SAMs is particularly concerning under an administration that has made racist anti-Muslim policy and rhetoric a hallmark, and has specifically advocated for the use of torture,” said Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior staff attorney with CCR.
Read the report here.
The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic is a legal clinic at Yale Law School that undertakes projects on behalf of human rights organizations and individual victims of human rights abuses.