For Immediate Release
Bureau Of Prisons Should Shutter Secretive And Isolated Communications Management Units, Says ACLU
Prisoners Unfairly Assigned To Draconian And Unconstitutional Units
WASHINGTON - Secretive housing units inside federal prisons in which prisoners are
condemned to live in stark isolation from the outside world are
unconstitutional, violate the religious rights of prisoners and are at
odds with U.S. treaty obligations, according to the American Civil
In comments filed today with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the ACLU called
for the immediate closure of all Communications Management Units
(CMUs), which were ostensibly created to house and control the
communications activities of prisoners with suspected terrorist ties.
But because the criteria for placement in a CMU are so vague and
overbroad, and because those criteria are applied by prison officials
with no outside review or accountability, CMUs in fact house prisoners
who have never been convicted or even accused of any terrorism-related
"These units are an unprecedented attack on the constitutional rights of
prisoners and those in the outside world who wish to communicate with
them," said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project.
"There is no justification for forcing prisoners who have never been
convicted of any crime of terrorism to serve their sentences in severely
isolated housing units, especially since prison officials are already
able to address any legitimate security concerns by monitoring the mail,
telephone calls and visits of people in their custody."
The Bureau of Prisons has long been operating two CMUs without
regulatory authority - one at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre
Haute, Indiana and one at the United States Penitentiary in Marion,
Illinois. The ACLU's comments oppose proposed federal regulations which,
if adopted, would formally authorize the CMUs' operation.
The ACLU last year filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Bureau's
creation of the CMUs on behalf of Sabri Benkahla, an American citizen
who has been imprisoned at the Terre Haute CMU since October 2007,
despite being found not guilty of all terrorism-related charges against
him and praised as a "model citizen" by his sentencing judge, who said
the chances of his ever committing another crime are "infinitesimal."
The proposed regulations grant unfettered discretion to prison officials
to decide, without any kind of independent and external review, to
transfer federal prisoners to a CMU, where prisoners' ability to
communicate with the outside world is all but eliminated. Prisoners in
CMUs are allowed just one 15-minute phone call per month with "immediate
family members only," they are allowed only one one-hour, non-contact
visit per month with "immediate family members" and their written
correspondence is limited to three pieces of paper once per week which
can be sent to or received from a single recipient "at the discretion of
There is no provision for visiting or telephone contact with friends,
relatives other than immediate family, clergy or members of the news
media, in violation of the Constitution and federal law. And a lack of
provision for prisoners who are foreign nationals to visit or
communicate by telephone with consular officials violates U.S. treaty
Additionally, the proposed regulations are in no way limited to people
with proven or even suspected terrorist ties. In fact, the proposed
regulations could be applied to virtually any person in federal custody,
including witnesses, pretrial detainees and other people who have never
been convicted or even charged with any crime.
"These draconian units are as unconstitutional as they are unnecessary,"
Fathi said. "The CMUs must be closed immediately, and prison officials
must abide by the rule of law without violating the First Amendment
rights of prisoners and their families."
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