Communication Management Unit is a recent designation for a self-contained group within a facility in the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons that severely restricts, manages and monitors all outside communication (telephone, mail, visitation) of inmates in the unit.

Origins[edit | edit source]

As part of the Bush Administration's War on Terrorism, the April 3, 2006 Federal Register included proposed rules by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) that "Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates".[1] The changes were in response to criticism that the FBOP had not been adequately monitoring the communications of prisoners, permitting several terrorists convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to send letters to other terrorists overseas. "By concentrating resources in this fashion, it will greatly enhance the agency's capabilities for language translation, content analysis and intelligence sharing", according to a government statement released with the rules.[2]

The public was given until June 2, 2006 to comment, as required by law. Civil liberty and human rights groups immediately questioned the constitutionality and stated that the provisions were so broad that they could be applied to non-terrorists, witnesses and detainees. The bureau appeared to abandon the program, but on December 11, 2006, a Communication Management Unit (CMU) was quietly implemented at Indiana's Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute. "From April to June 2010, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) opened up a period for public comment around the establishment of two Communications Management Units” with several civil rights groups and advocates “coming together to urge the federal Bureau of Prisons to close the experimental prison units.”[3] It is unclear who authorized the program; it was either the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, FBOP Director Harley Lappin or Alberto Gonzales, United States Attorney General. However, it appears to be in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.[4]

Communication restrictions[edit | edit source]

Compared to other inmates, those placed in the CMU have little contact with the outside world. At least $14 million is spent on surveillance of the CMUs. A counterterrorism team in West Virginia monitors verbal communication remotely.[5]

Visitation[edit | edit source]

The CMU permits two hours, twice per month, and no contact, meaning the visitor and inmate are in separate rooms with viewing through a glass window and talking via telephone. All conversations must be in English unless special permission is granted 10 days in advance. This is in contrast to ordinary inmates in ordinary units, where the visitation standard includes unlimited contact on their visitation day, once each week or biweekly.[4] In addition to the already imposed restrictions, CMU “prisoners are banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children.”[6]

Mail[edit | edit source]

Non-CMU prisoners can usually send and receive unlimited mail, where incoming mail is checked for contraband, then delivered to the inmate. With the exception of correspondence with lawyers & the courts, letters sent to and from the CMU are read, copied and evaluated before being released, which results in delays of a week or more.[4]

Telephone[edit | edit source]

Convicts in the general population are permitted 300 phone minutes per month; rules in the CMU allow one call per week, limited to 15 minutes, and it must be in English unless special permission is granted 10 days in advance. The duration of the single call can be reduced to 3 minutes at the discretion of the warden.[4]

CMU 1, Terre Haute, Indiana[edit | edit source]

On February 25, 2007, the Washington Post reported the creation of a medium security Communication Management Unit housing 213 inmates in Terre Haute. The staff monitors all telephone calls and mail, and requires that all inmate conversations occur in English unless special permission is arranged for conversations in other languages. It was physically situated in the former death row section, and all but two of the inmates are Arab Muslims, leading the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to raise a concern about racial profiling. The ACLU also charged that the communication restrictions are unduly harsh for prisoners who are not sufficiently serious security threats to warrant placement in ADX Florence, the Supermax facility in Colorado.[2]

Current inmates include the Lackawanna Six, Randall Todd Royer, Rafil A. Dhafir,[citation needed] Enaam Arnaout, and "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh.[7]

CMU 2, Marion, Illinois[edit | edit source]

Although the Supermax facility is gone, the United States Penitentiary, Marion in 2008 became home to the other known "Communication Management Unit" in the federal prison system.[8] The inmates are predominately Arab Muslims, but it also houses Daniel McGowan, serving seven years for involvement in two arsons at logging operations in Oregon. His sentence was given "terrorism enhancements" as authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act.[9][10]

Animal Liberation Front prisoner Abdul Haqq, known formerly as Walter Bond and previously as Walter Edmund Zuehlke[11] is also currently housed at the CMU in Marion. Since arriving in early 2012, Abdul announced to his supporters that he had converted to Islam. Abdul is serving 12 years for 3 counts of arson in relation to the Animal Liberation Front.[12][13][14][15] Abdul Haqq has been associated with the Hardline and vegan straight edge subcultures. Abdul previously served time in prison related to an arson of a crystal methamphetamine laboratory.

Communication Management Unit also houses Richard Scutari, a former leader of the white nationalist revolutionary group, The Order. Scutari was sentenced to a 60-year prison term in 1985. He was moved to the USP Marion CMU in July 2008.

An ACLU law suit charges that CMUs of the federal prisons violates inmates' rights.[16] In a Democracy Now interview on June 25, 2009, animal rights activist Andrew Stepanian, a member of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), talked about being jailed at the CMU. Stepanian is believed to be the first prisoner released from a CMU.[17]

Traits of CMU and its prisoners[edit | edit source]

A 2011 story by NPR reported 50 units and 71 inmates at CMUs. It also described open cells, and a basketball court. A lawyer from ACLU has been inside the Terre Haute CMU.[5] NPR also claimed to have identified dozens of inmates at the CMU and compiled a list on its website. The sorts of cases include:[18]

Ed Ross of the Bureau of Prisons said the units were designed for the following offenses:[5]

  • people convicted of terrorism,
  • prisoners who have dealt drugs
  • prisoners who tried to recruit or radicalize others
  • prisoners who have abused their communications privileges by harassing victims, judges and prosecutors

The Terre Haute CMU restricts Muslim group prayer to once per week (once per day during Ramadan) according to a 2010 lawsuit filed by inmates Enaam Arnaout and John Walker Lindh. The suit alleges that the prison violates religious rights to pray five times per day, in a ritually clean place, "preferably in a group".[7] On March 30, 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of plaintiffs Yassin Muhiddin Aref, Avon Twitty, Daniel McGowan, Royal Jones, Kifah Jayyousi, Hedaya Jayyousi, and Jenny Synan “challenging policies and conditions at two experimental prison units that are being operated in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois, as well as the circumstances under which they were established.” [6] As of 2011, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights estimates the Muslim population of CMUs at roughly 70 percent. They are also barred from praying together.[5]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates" Federal Register, April 3, 2006
  2. 2.0 2.1 Eggen, Dan: "Facility Holding Terrorism Inmates Limits Communication" Washington Post, February 25, 2007
  3. "Stop Isolating Prisoners in Experimental Units" The Center for Constitutional Rights, retrieved 2011 04 21
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Ven Bergen, Jennifer: "Documents show new secretive US prison program isolating Muslim, Middle Eastern prisoners" The Raw Story, February 16, 2007
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 'Guantanamo North': Inside Secretive U.S. Prisons, Carrie Johnson and Margot Williams, NPR, 2011 Mar 3, via on 2011 03 04
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al. " The Center for Constitutional Rights, retrieved 2011 04 21
  7. 7.0 7.1 Wilson, Charles (1 Sept. 2010). "John Walker Lindh seeks Ind. prison prayer ruling". Associated Press. Retrieved 23 October 2010. 
  8. McGowan, Daniel: "Tales from Inside the U.S. Gitmo" Huffington Post, June 8, 2009
  9. Mortensen, Camilla (2007-05-10). "Terror Label: Feds seek to 'enhance' sentences for eco-saboteurs". Eugene Weekly. Retrieved 24 October 2010. 
  10. "News & Updates: June 6, 2007". Support for Daniel McGowan. Retrieved 24 October 2010. 
  11. Vaughn, Kevin (24 July 2010), "Tip led federal agents to arson arrest in Sheepskin Factory fire", The Denver Post,, retrieved 6 April 2012 
  12. "Walter Bond Sentenced to Federal Prison for the Arson at the Sheepskin Factory in Glendale" (Press release). U.S. Dept. of Justice. February 11, 2011. 
  13. "Bond Pleads Guilty to Two Counts of Arson in Connection with Fires at Two Utah Businesses" (Press release). U.S. Dept. of Justice. July 6, 2011. 
  14. "Support Walter Bond".  web site
  15. Ingold, John (11 February 2011), "Animal-rights arsonist gets 5 years in prison", The Denver Post,, retrieved 6 April 2012 
  16. Kuipers, Dean: "ACLU to challenge isolation prisons" LA Times, June 18, 2009
  17. Goodman, Amy: "Animal Rights Activist Jailed at Secretive Prison Gives First Account of Life Inside a 'CMU'" Democracy Now, June 25, 2009
  18. DATA & GRAPHICS: Population Of The Communications Management Units, Margot Williams and Alyson Hurt, NPR, 3-3-11, retrieved 2011 03 04 from

External links[edit | edit source]

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