Fighting the secrets of ‘Communication Management Units’ in U.S. prisons

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Inmates of highly secretive U.S. prisons, also known as communication management units (CMUs), are getting one more chance to challenge their confinement in their case against the Federal Bureau of Prisons on March 15, 2016.

Lawyers for the Centre for Constitutional Rights argue that CMUs represent a “fundamental disruption” to the prisoners’ rights and freedoms. CMUs have strict regulations against outside communication and prisoners are unable to directly interact with visitors and the rest of the prison population. The Federal Bureau of Prisons created CMUs without any written conditions or procedures and gives prisoners very little information as to why they are being transferred to the unit in the first place. Prisoners are able to appeal the transfer, but not a single prisoner has ever been released through the appeal process. Without written rules in place, it is suggested that these transfers take place based on discriminatory nature. About 178 inmates are held in CMUs and nearly 60 per cent of them are Muslims, according to lawyer Rachel Meeropol. Journalist Will Potter, who has visited a CMU, speculates the majority of prisoners are there because of their political beliefs, not necessarily due to the crimes they have committed. There are two known CMUs in the United States: one in Marion, Illinois and the other in Terre Haute, Indiana. Both of these CMUs exist in larger federal prisons.

As of March 16, 2016, corporate media has not covered this story. However, CMUs have gained coverage from several secondary media outlets, such as Alternet, Huffington Post, NPR and The Marshall Project.


Carrie Johnson, “Inmates Try to Revive Lawsuit Over Secretive Prison Units,” NPR, March 15, 2016,

Christie Thompson, “Another Kind of Isolation,” The Marshall Project, Jan. 28, 2015, – .be2hzfK4R

Rachel Meeropol, “Challenging Secretive U.S. Prisons,” Huffington Post, Oct. 28, 2015,

SharminiPeries, “Uncovering America’s Secret Prisons,” Alternet, March 7, 2016,

Student Researcher: Allison Bamford (University of Regina)

Faculty Evaluator: Patricia W. Elliott (University of Regina)