At the Women's Building in San Francisco, the Center for Constitutional Rights gathered a panel of experts to discuss the history and the ramifications of solitary confinement and experimental isolation units in the U.S. prison system.
The panel featured Zahra Billoo, Executive Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-San Francisco Bay Area; Dr. Terry Kupers, M.D., the Wright Institute; Keramet Reiter, JD, PhD Candidate Berkeley Law; Nahal Zamani, Education and Outreach Associate, Center for Constitutional Rights; and Eddy Zheng, former inmate and prisoner rights advocate. The panel was moderated by Sara Norman, attorney, Prison Law Office. [Full audio here]
In 2006, a new type of isolation unit in federal penitentiaries was established called Communications Management Units (CMUs), despite objections from civil liberties organizations. These new facilities offer no contact visits and only four hours a month with family and friends. Due to public pressure, the time allowed was increased to two four-hour visits in January of 2010.Additionally, visits are often difficult as prisoners can be sent hundreds if not thousands of miles from where they live. CMU inmates are allowed two fifteen-minute calls per month, in which family members must be as succinct as possible and pass the phone quickly to everyone who wants to speak.
Over 65% of inmates in CMUs are Muslim. The next largest populations are political prisoners, either environmental and animal activists who are now classified as "terrorists" by law enforcement agencies and those who have become prison civil liberties activists while behind bars.
Given who is currently being held in isolation units, there are obvious parallels between the growth of supermax prisons, SHUs, and CMUs domestically and notorious U.S. military prisons abroad such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. (More)