Investigative journalist Will Potter is the only reporter who has been inside a Communications Management Unit, or CMU, within a US prison. These units were opened secretly, and radically alter how prisoners are treated — even preventing them from hugging their children. Potter, a TED Fellow, shows us who is imprisoned here, and how the government is trying to keep them hidden.
“The message was clear,” he says. “Don’t talk about this place.”
Last year, Rachel Meeropol, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, discussed CMUs with Kevin Gosztola and Rania Khalek on the Unauthorized Disclosure podcast. CCR sued the Bureau of Prisons over their use of CMUs:
Prisoners are sent to these units without any really formal written down designation process. In fact, the first prisoners who were sent to the units, there was no process whatsoever. A single BOP bureaucrat simply decided this was the people who should go there. Prisoners get a one-page notice of transfer when they arrive at the unit after the BOP has decided to send them there. And that notice is supposed to describe the reasons why the individual has been sent to this unit, but first of all the notice doesn’t even reflect the reasons that the person who decided to send the prisoner to the CMU has relied on. It reflects reasons that another office in the BOP thinks are important and not even all the reasons that office thinks are important and even the reasons that are listed on the notice are frequently just incorrect or incomprehensible.
So, prisoners who tried it, challenged their notices, appealed through BOP avenues to try to understand why they’ve been sent to this unit, why they’ve been sent to this unit based on information they know is inaccurate or that they can’t understand simply receive a response, kind of a reiteration of the same explanation. It’s truly Kafkaesque.
An individual will be told, for example, our client Daniel McGowan was sent to a CMU and he received a notice of transfer indicating that his transfer to the CMU was predominantly based on his offense conduct. And it listed several aspects of his offense conduct, which just weren’t true. It was not actions that he was convicted of or charged with or involved in. So he appealed through the administrative remedy process saying that this is incorrect. Where does this information come from? And they respond you have been sent to the CMU because of reason x, y, z—the same reasons, and say the information comes from court documents. But those same court documents show that the information is false. It’s just a closed circuit. There’s no way around.