Court Vindicates Prisoners in Right to Challenge Federal Experimental
Isolation Units Restricting Communication
Center for Constitutional Rights Wins Over Government Motion to
Dismiss Case Involving Segregated Units That Target Muslims, Activists
March 30, 2011, New York – Today, prisoners in two experimental
federal prison units called “Communications Management Units” (CMUs)
won the right to have their day in court and challenge the violation
of their fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to
due process. The units are being used overwhelmingly to hold Muslim
prisoners and prisoners with unpopular political beliefs. The Center
for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the case on their behalf
exactly one year ago on March 30, 2010.
Said CCR Attorney Alexis Agathocleous, “Today, Judge Urbina has
agreed that our clients have raised serious constitutional questions
about the CMUs, and has vindicated their right to a day in court to
pursue their claims. Our clients were designated to the CMUs without
due process or oversight, even though they have no significant
history of disciplinary infractions. This led to pattern of
retaliatory designations to the CMUs. In a significant victory for
our clients, the court will now scrutinize the BOP’s actions.”
Said plaintiff Hedaya Jayyousi, “I am deeply gratified that the court
will hear our claims. My husband has been held under these conditions
for years without a proper explanation. My children and I hope that
we will now be given some answers.”
Transfers to the CMU are not explained, nor are prisoners told how
release into less restrictive confinement may be earned as there is
no meaningful review process. The court agreed the plaintiffs had
alleged conditions in the CMUs that were sufficiently restrictive to
support their claim that they have a “liberty interest” in having the
right to procedural due process.
The court wrote, “In light of the plaintiffs factual allegations
supporting their contention that reviews provided by the defendants
are ‘illusory’ and meaningless, the court determines that they have
adequately alleged there is a high risk that the procedures used by
the defendants have resulted in erroneous deprivations of their
Lawyers say that because these transfers are not based on facts or
discipline for infractions, a pattern of religious and political
discrimination and retaliation for prisoners’ lawful advocacy has
The court allowed the claims of violation of due process as well as
of retaliation to go forward. The court found that plaintiff Royal
Jones made serious allegations that cannot be dismissed that he was
put into the CMU in retaliation for protected speech, and speaking
out and filing complaints about improper prison conditions.
Similarly, the court found that allegations that plaintiff Daniel
McGowan was twice designated to the CMU in retaliation for social
justice advocacy and for seeking legal information from his attorneys
could not be dismissed.
The court further refused to allow the BOP to evade review by
transferring the Center for Constitutional Rights’ clients from the
CMU. The court dismissed several of the claims raised by the lawsuit,
including claims of equal protection, substantive due process, and
freedom of association.
CCR filed Aref v. Holder in the D.C. District Court on behalf of
current and former prisoners of the units in Terre Haute, IN and
Marion, IL; two other plaintiffs are the spouses of those prisoners.
The CMUs were secretly opened under the Bush administration in 2006
and 2007 respectively and were designed to monitor and control the
communications of certain prisoners and to isolate them from other
prisoners and the outside world. The five plaintiffs in Aref were
designated to the two CMUs despite having relatively or totally clean
disciplinary histories, and none of the plaintiffs have received any
communications-related disciplinary infractions in the last decade.
Between 65 and 72 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim men.
In addition to heavily restricted telephone and visitation access,
CMU prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with
family members and are forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing
their children or spouses during visits.
For information about CCR’s federal lawsuit around CMUs, visit the
Aref, et al v. Holder, et al case page or www.ccrjustice.org/cmu.
The law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and attorney Kenneth A.
Kreuscher are co-counsel in the case.
Updated CMU story on lawsuit here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-