Federal Prison Communications Management Units

Legislative Fact Sheet

October 2011

The Issue

  • What are CMUs? In 2006 and 2008, in secret and without the opportunity for public review the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) created Communications Management Units (CMUs). CMUs are prison units designed to isolate and segregate certain prisoners from the rest of the federal population. Unlike other BOP prisoners, CMU prisoners are completely banned from any physical contact with visiting family members and friends and their telephone communications are severely limited.
  • CMUs disproportionately target American Muslims. Currently there are two CMUs nationwide that house between 60 and 70 prisoners in total. However, two-thirds of those prisoners are Muslim, even though Muslims represent only 6 percent of federal prison population.
    • At the Marion-Illinois CMU, 72 percent of the population is Muslim, 1,200 percent higher than the national average of Muslim prisoners in federal prison facilities.
    • At the Terre Haute-Indiana CMU, its prison population is approximately two-thirds Muslim, an overrepresentation of 1,000 percent.
  • CMUs lack transparency and violate due process. CMU prisoners do not received any meaningful explanation of the reasons why they were transferred to CMUs or what evidence was used to make that decision. They also do not receive a hearing to challenge their CMU designation. Likewise, there is no meaningful review process through which they might earn their way out of the CMU.

What is being asked of the U.S. Senate?

On October 7, twelve House members wrote to BOP with questions and concerns about the policies and practices at CMUs, and the circumstances under which they were established. We ask that you reemphasis the House's concern and support a Senate letter of inquiry to BOP demanding that it clarify:

  • Why are CMU inmates not informed of the evidence used to determine their designation in CMUs?
  • Why is there no review process through which CMU inmates might earn their way out of CMUs?
  • If CMU inmate communications are being closely monitored, why are they not allowed contact visits?
  • Why did BOP determine that it is not necessary for inmates to have communications-related infractions before being placed in CMUs, given the focus on the monitoring of inmate communication?
  • What accounts for the large percentage of Muslims in CMUs?

Reasons to Support Reform of the Communication Management Unit Program

  • In 2010, two years after the fact, BOP finally disclosed CMU polices for public comment as required by law. While BOP is expected to release its final rules governing CMU facilities by October 2011, Congress should act now to ensure that these questions are properly addressed in BOP's final rulemaking.
  • As stated above, CMUs lack transparency, violate due process, and disproportionately target American Muslims housed in the federal prison system. In addition, the Center for Constitutional Rights reports that BOP has an unchecked pattern of retaliatory and discriminatory designation of Muslim prisoners and politically active prisoners to CMUs.
  • Although many CMU prisoners have been classified as low security by the BOP and have clean disciplinary histories, their communication with family, friends, and the outside world is severely restricted without clarification or justification. CMUs' visitation policies are even more restrictive than that of ADX Florence, the BOP's "supermax" prison. This policy runs counter to BOP acknowledging the critical importance of communications and visitation to the rehabilitation and re-entry of prisoners.

Note: This document contains text produced by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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