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Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al.

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Synopsis

Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al. is a federal lawsuit filed against Attorney General Eric Holder, federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials, and the BOP itself, challenging policies and conditions at two experimental prison units called "Communication Management Units" or "CMUs"  that are being operated in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois, as well as the circumstances under which they were established.

Status

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has opened up a second comment period about the Communications Management Units (CMUs), where prisoners are given extremely limited access to calls and visits and are deprived of any physical contact with visiting loved ones, without due process.
 
You may remember that, back in 2010, we invited you to send your comments to the BOP to express your concerns about the CMUs. Over 700 people submitted comments back in 2010, and since then we’ve been waiting for the BOP to finally publish a final, publicly-available rule about the operation of the CMUs.  Almost four years later – and almost eight years after the BOP first opened the units – that rule still hasn’t been finalized. But this week , the BOP opened up another 14-day period of public comment, if you didn’t have a chance to share your comments last time round, or would like to supplement your previous comments, please send in a submission. Here’s the proposed rule. You can learn more about the CMUs, and our clients, in this 2011 Nation article 

Aref v. Holder was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on March 30, 2010. In 2012, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint adding Leslie Smith, the head of the Counterterrorism Unit of the Bureau of Prisons as a defendant, and detailing the ways in which Plaintiffs’ first amendment protected speech was relied upon as a basis for their transfer to and retention in the CMU.  Discovery in the case is complete as of winter 2014, and the parties will be briefing summary judgment through spring of 2014.

Click here to see the article about CMUs titled "Gitmo in the Heartland", which appeared in the March 28, 2011 issue of The Nation.

Description

In 2006 and 2008, the BOP secretly created two experimental prison units designed to isolate certain prisoners from the rest of the prison population and the outside world. These units are called “Communications Management Units” or “CMUs,” and despite the fact that their creation marked a dramatic change in BOP policy, they were opened without the required opportunity for public notice and comment.

Prisoners in the CMU, alone out of all general population prisoners within the federal system, are categorically banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children. To further their social isolation, the BOP has placed severe restrictions on their access to phone calls and work and educational opportunities. Adding to the suspect nature of these units, upwards of two-thirds of the prisoners confined there are Muslim – a figure that over-represents the proportion of Muslim prisoners in BOP facilities by at least 1000 percent. Many of the remaining prisoners have unpopular political views, including environmental activists designated as “ecoterrorists.”

Five CMU prisoners and two of their spouses (who, along with their children, have been subjected to draconian rules governing visitation and phone calls) joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs. All five men confined in the CMU have been classified as low or medium security, but were designated to the CMU despite their relatively, and in two cases perfectly, clean disciplinary history. Not a single one has received discipline for any communications-related infraction within the last decade, nor any significant disciplinary offense.

Like all CMU prisoners, the men received no procedural protections related to their designation, and were not allowed to examine or refute the allegations that led to their transfer. They faced indefinite detention at the CMU without any meaningful review process.

Predictably, the lack of procedural protections has allowed for an unchecked pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory designations to the CMU. Rather than being related to a legitimate penological purpose or based on substantiated information, our clients’ designations were instead based on their religious and/or perceived political beliefs, or in retaliation for other protected First Amendment activity.

These conditions have unjustifiably interfered with the men’s ability to maintain relationships with their loved ones – relationships that are the key to their successful transition back to society.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the BOP has made several important changes.  In the Summer of 2010, the BOP opened up a period for public comment around the two CMUs.

Also in reaction to the lawsuit, the BOP began moving prisoners out of the units, including several Plaintiffs.  These transfers continue to occur without meaningful explanation.

Click here to download a fact sheet on the CMUs.

Multi Media

Timeline

NPR's CMU timeline

NPR's MArgot Williams and Alicia Cypress have created an interactive timeline of the history of the CMUs.