By Chris Zoukis
Nearly a decade after the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) began operating its notorious “Communications Management Units” (or CMU’s), the Department of Justice (DOJ) has formally issued a final rule approving the BOP’s restrictive policies already in place at those facilities.
In 2006, the BOP opened its first CMU at its Terre Haute, Indiana prison complex, and another at USP Marion, Illinois in 2008. These self-contained units are designed to house prisoners whom the BOP has deemed dangerous, and require close monitoring of their communications in order to maintain the safety and security of prison facilities and the general public. Prisoners confined to CMU’s are subject to close monitoring of their communications with each other and with the outside world, through reduced mailing, telephone, and non-contact visitation privileges.
The federal government’s use of CMU’s has faced consistent criticism by civil liberties groups because of the disproportionate number of Muslim prisoners confined there, many indefinitely. According to the newly-approved regulations — which, in practice, have been in use since the beginning — a prisoner can be designated there if BOP officials decide that the prisoner’s offense involves terrorism, no matter how tangentially. 28 C.F.R. § 540.201.
While regulations allow the BOP to banish non-terrorist prisoners to a CMU for communications-related reasons, critics have charged that Muslim prisoners have been unfairly targeted. In its recent publication of the final rule, the Department of Justice claimed that these additional reasons why a prisoner could be sent to a CMU “negates a claim of Bureau-wide conspiracy to discriminate against Muslims.” 79 Fed. Register 3169.
The restrictive conditions at the CMU’s brought harsh criticism from public commenters who contacted the DOJ when the proposed rule was first published, which prompted the BOP to “lessen” some of its restrictions. For example, the BOP will allow prisoners to write a six-page letter each week, up from the proposed three- page limit; three telephone calls a month (up from one; and four one-hour, non-contact visits a month (up from one.
At present, at least half the prisoners in CMU’s are identified as Muslim.
Source: Department of Justice
This article originally appeared in Prison Legal News in August 2016.