Monday, November 19, 2012

What is a CMU?

Many of the Muslim prisoners who have been preemptively prosecuted are held in "Communication Management Units (CMUs)." There are two CMUs in the United States: at Marion, IL, and Terre Haute, IN.

What is a CMU?

"CMUs, alone out of all general population units within the federal system, impose a categorical ban on any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children. To further social isolation, the BOP has placed severe restrictions on CMU prisoners’ access to phone calls and prison programming." (See: CCR Complaint - Aref v. BOP, section 2)

In other words, a "Communication Management Unit (CMU)" is modified form of solitary confinement characterized by:
  • no physical contact with family and friends;
  • extremely limited opportunity for non-contact visitation and other communication;
  • denial of programming; and
  • complete segregation from the rest of the prison population.
Each of these characteristics of the CMU is described below.

No physical contact with family and friends

"As a general matter, the BOP encourages contact visitation by family, friends, and community groups to maintain the morale of the inmate and to aid rehabilitation. ... The BOP has established procedures to prevent the passage of contraband and to ensure the security and good order of the institution. In that context, the BOP permits limited physical contact, such as handshaking, embracing, and kissing, between an inmate and a visitor, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that such contact would jeopardize the safety or security of the institution. The CMU ban on contact visits directly contradicts this explicit BOP policy. ... prolonged and indefinite ban on physical contact is extremely deleterious to Plaintiffs’ emotional and mental health and rehabilitation, and to maintenance of family integrity." (See: CCR Complaint - Aref v. BOP, section 37 ff. )

Extremely limited opportunity for non-contact visitation and other communication

(a) Limitations on non-contact visits

"As of January 3, 2010, CMU prisoners are now allowed eight hours of visiting time per month. No single visit can be scheduled for a period longer than four hours. Visits are permitted Sunday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. No visiting is allowed on Saturdays." This is distinctly more limited than visitation for prisoners in the general population. (See: CCR Complaint - Aref v. BOP, section 57 )

(b) Limitations on telephone calls

Generally, "BOP prisoners in general population are allowed 300 minutes of outgoing telephone calls per month. ... CMU prisoners are limited to 120 minutes of telephone calls a month. In addition: "CMU prisoners may only make a call if they sign up and designate the call recipient and the exact timing of the call one week in advance. If the recipient does not pick up the phone, or the call is cut off for some reason, CMU prisoners may not try the number again, nor are they allowed to call someone else instead." (See: CCR Complaint - Aref v. BOP, section 63 ff )

Denial of programming

BOP regulations provide for Release Preparation Program (“RPP”), and such programming is a mandatory requirement for prisoners within 30 months of release. There is a complete lack of such programming at the CMUs. (See: CCR Complaint - Aref v. BOP, section 71 )

Complete segregation from the rest of the prison population

"Although described as a 'general population housing unit,' prisoners in the CMU are segregated from other prisoners at both FCI Terre Haute and USP Marion and not allowed to have contact with non-CMU prisoners. The units are known and referred to throughout both prisons (and the BOP as a whole) as 'terrorist units.'" (See: CCR Complaint - Aref v. BOP, section 69 )

NOTE 1 re: solitary confinement equals torture: It is now widely recognized that CMUs and other forms of solitary confinement, because they constitute forms of severe sensory deprivation, are a form of torture. Sensory deprivation as a form of punishment (i.e. solitary confinement) is eschewed by most countries, and is now the subject of an abolition campaign in the United States. (See: New Amnesty International Report Exposes Severe, Inhumane Solitary Confinement Conditions for 3,000 California Prisoners)

NOTE 2 re: lack of due process in solitary confinement: Solitary confinement, including CMUs, constitute a penal-system-beyond-the-law, i.e. prisoners are subject to this treatment at the discretion of prison management, without procedural protections. FURTHERMORE, CMU assignment is at the discretion of managers at a level above site management; i.e. wardens, themselves, at Marion and Terre Haute have minimal opportunity for input and no decision authority. Duration of confinement in CMUs are of indefinite duration. (See CCR Complaint - Aref v. BOP, throughout )

NOTE 3: re: stigma of CMU solitary confinement: Pretexts for solitary confinement treatment generally fall into two categories: infractions (something the prisoner is accused of having done while in prison) or profiling (i.e. who the prisoner is). The CMU designation of Muslim prisoners has not been related to any legitimate penological purpose or substantiated information. Instead, their designation was based on their religion and/or perceived political beliefs, or in retaliation for other protected First Amendment activity. (See CCR Complaint - Aref v. BOP, section 69 )

For additional information, see: CCR Complaint - Aref v. BOP

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