Inside U.S. Prisons’ “Communications Management Units”


The Nation magazine reports on “communications management units” (CMUs) maintained by the federal Bureau of Prisons at two institutions aimed at “limited communication for terrorist inmates.” The prison bureau says that eighteen of thirty-three prisoners being held in such a unit at Terre Haute, In., (55 percent) and twenty-three of thirty-six in a similar unit at Marion, Il., (64 percent) are Muslim. Muslims make up just 6 percent of the federal prison population.

The prison bureau provided a partial list of activities that might land an inmate inside a CMU, including being convicted of or associated with international or domestic terrorism; repeated attempts to contact victims or witnesses; a history of soliciting minors for sexual activity; a court-ordered communication restriction; coordinating illegal activities from inside prison and a disciplinary history that includes continued abuse of communications methods. The prison bureau said a majority of inmates in the two federal CMUs were there for terrorism-related reasons. Georgetown University law Prof. David Cole said it may be all right to hold people in CMUs who, if they “could communicate freely with the outside world, would wreak violence on innocent people,” but that some inmates there are nonviolent offenders whose detention in “very extreme conditions” is “entirely unwarranted.”

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