The Federal Bureau of Prisons quietly opened Communication Man-agement Units in December 2006 and March 2008 in Terre Haute, Ind., and the United States Penitentiary in Marion, respectively, to provide increased monitoring of inmates' communications.
Critics have since labeled the units "Guantanamo North," "Little Guantan-amo" and "Gitmo in the Heartland" because of their high proportion of Middle Eastern and Muslim inmates.
Since their inception, the CMUs have sparked controversy because of tight restrictions on inmates' communication, phone calls and visits.
According to information provided by Edmond Ross, Bureau of Prisons spokes-man, CMUs operate as open general population units, but inmates assigned to CMUs are separated from all other inmates in the facility.
The types of inmates who could be housed in a CMU might include an inmate convicted of or associated with international or domestic terrorism, inmates who repeatedly attempt to contact victims or witnesses, or inmates with extensive disciplinary histories of abusing approved communication methods, according to the bureau.
Inmates in the unit are allowed two 15-minute phone calls per week and eight hours of visitation per month, Ross said. Both calls and visits are monitored live by intelligence analysts in Virginia and must take place in English. By comparison, many BOP institutions allow 300 minutes of calls per month. At USP Florence ADMAX in Colorado, the nation's only supermax prison, inmates are given 35 hours of visitation per month.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has challenged the Bureau of Prisons not only on the communication restrictions, but the manner in which the units were established.
Rachel Meeropol, staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said a lawsuit was filed because the bureau was required to file a proposed rule in the federal registry before creating the CMU. That's because the units are unique within the prison system and are creating a new way of holding prisoners. Meeropol said the lawsuit was dismissed because the bureau weeks later began a notice and comment process and indicated they plan to have a finalized rule by October.
"Currently, the bureau is after-the-fact engaging in the comment and notice process," she said.
Meeropol said the center also filed claims based on two different constitutional points.
The center is claiming the units violate procedural due process because prisoners are being sent without meaningful notice as to why they're being taken to a CMU and do not have an opportunity to earn their way out or challenge their placement.
"Most times, prisoners are sent to the units with a vague one-sentence explanation that they get after they're sent there," Meeropol said. "These explanations don't provide the prisoners with the factual information that led to their designation."
Meeropol said some inmates are being sent to CMUs based solely on conviction, which cannot be changed, as opposed to their conduct while in prison.
"The problem is that means people are being indefinitely sent to these extremely restrictive units despite the fact they aren't shown to have violated any prison rules," she said.
The center has argued the lack of procedures have allowed for a practice of retaliatory and discriminatory transfers to the CMU.
"That partially explains why the unit is so predominantly Muslim," she said. "About 65 to 72 percent of the prisoners in the CMU are Muslim, despite the fact that only 6 percent of prisoners in the Bureau of Prisons in total are Muslim."
The bureau did not respond to The Southern Illinoisan's questions regarding alleged discrimination or the ethnic makeup of the CMUs.