Kifah Jayyousi is a United States citizen who is married with five children and currently lives and works in Michigan. Kifah is a plaintiff in Aref v. Garland, a federal lawsuit filed in 2010 challenging policies and practices at two experimental "Communications Management Units" (CMUs) in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois, which were created in 2006 and 2008, to isolate certain prisoners from the rest of the prison population and the outside world. Between 2008 and 2013, Kifah was incarcerated in CMUs.
"My five children grew up while I was in the CMU. Not being able to talk with them regularly, or hug them and my wife, siblings and parents, during the five years I was in a CMU was a torture I will never recover from."
Kifah's experience at the CMUs exemplifies the vast problems not only with the policies and practices with these isolation units, but their mere existence. People in CMUs are completely banned from any physical contact with visiting family members and friends, and other types of communication are also severely limited; they receive no meaningful explanation for their transfer to the unit or for the extraordinary communications restrictions to which they are subjected; and there is no meaningful review or appeal process that allows CMU prisoners to be transferred back to general population.
The population breakdown of the CMUs leads to the inescapable inference that the CMUs were created to allow for the segregation and restrictive treatment of Muslim prisoners based on the Bureau of Prison's (BOP) discriminatory belief that Muslim prisoners are more likely than others to pose a threat to institution security. Like Kifah, many CMU prisoners have neither significant disciplinary records nor any communications-related infractions, but bias, political scapegoating, religious profiling, and racism have been responsible for their placement in these discriminatory units.
Incarceration and CMU designation
In January 2008, Kifah was sentenced to 12 years and eight months imprisonment for a terrorism-related offense—alleged criminal conduct involving financial contributions to charities, which ceased in 1998. Notably, the sentencing judge made it clear that there was no evidence linking Kifah to specific acts of violence anywhere, that he had honorably served in the United States Navy, and that he received many letters of support from community members.
Kifah was incarcerated in a federal prison in Miami, where he received no major disciplinary infractions, and absolutely no communications-related disciplinary infractions. However, in June 2008, he was transferred to the CMU at Terre Haute without prior written notice or explanation. At the time, the Bureau of Prisons had failed to develop appropriate procedures or criteria for CMU designation, but nonetheless designated people for these units where they faced severe restrictions: all communication with the outside world is strictly curtailed and monitored, and the burdens of such restricted access—especially to family and other loved ones—are magnified by the long duration of CMU placement, which can be indefinite.
During his time in the CMU, Kifah was prohibited from having a single contact visit with his wife, aging parents, or young children. He struggled to maintain a close relationship with his wife and teenage children during his confinement in the CMU. The lack of physical contact with his family for such a long period of time has been painful for them as well.
“My children were deeply affected by how I was treated in the BOP, and by the experience of having to visit with me through plexiglass. They continue to struggle with what happened to our family.”
After almost two and a half years of good conduct in the Terre Haute CMU, Kifah was abruptly transferred to the Marion CMU in 2011. The prison officials overseeing the CMU recommended him for transfer to a general population unit that same year because of good conduct and relationships with staff and other prisoners, however the officials with the Counter-terrorism Unit (CTU) of the Federal Bureau of Prisons recommended against his transfer, citing contested and erroneous information about his conduct.
Kifah, like others at the CMU, never received adequate information about why he was sent to a CMU, did not have access to a hearing or another opportunity to meaningfully rebut the factual basis for his placement, and received false information about how he could be released to the general population. The BOP claims that CMUs are designed to hold "dangerous terrorists" and other high-risk prisoners who require heightened monitoring of external and internal communications—however, in practice, many people were sent to these isolation units 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. Indeed, it was only through discovery documents that were produced by the government in the litigation that Kifah learned that certain constitutionally-protected political and religious speech was cited as the reason for his retention in the CMU.
In 2013, Kifah was again recommended for transfer out of the CMU, which was approved. However, the final redesignation memo written by the CTU cited erroneous information that to date remains in the BOP’s files and there is no existing mechanism to contest it.
Kifah was finally released from BOP custody in September 2017 and is currently serving a 20-year term of supervised release.
Litigation – Aref v. Garland
It is not only the emotional harm of CMU designation that lingers: inaccurate and highly prejudicial information about him created through faulty CMU designation and review procedures continues to present a false picture of Kifah to law enforcement and other government agencies.
Kifah has been released from prison but is still fighting in court to have inaccurate information about him expunged from his prison records to ensure that it cannot continue to be shared by the BOP with other agencies. His decade-plus struggle for accountability will also ensure that others in the CMU avoid discriminatory and retaliatory placement in the units and have a clear way to challenge factual errors leading to placement.
“Nothing will fix the damage done to my family during my years in the CMU, but a determination that my rights were violated would give me some relief, and having erroneous and prejudicial information about me expunged [from my record] would alleviate some of my worries that I am still being monitored and may again be singled out by the government. I know it would help my children and wife come to peace with what happened to our family.”