WASHINGTON (CN) - The use of two secret, experimental prison units used to isolate Muslim inmates is unconstitutional, the Center for Constitutional Rights claims in federal court.
Five inmates say they were classified as low or medium security and had relatively clean disciplinary histories. Still, because they are Muslim, they say they were put in the isolated units at either the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind., or at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Ill.
In fact, two-thirds of the male prisoners confined in each of those units are Muslim, "a figure that over-represents the proportion of Muslim prisoners by at least 1,000 percent," according to the 77-page complaint. "Many of the remaining prisoners have unpopular political views."
The units "imposed a categorical ban on any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants and minor children," according to the lawsuit. "To further social isolation, the (Bureau of Prisons) has placed severe restrictions on prisoners' access to phone calls and prison programming."
"As a result, plaintiffs' familial relationships and rights of association with loved ones have been substantially impaired," as is their "ability to engage in meaningful rehabilitation."
Although the creation of the units "marked a dramatic change in policy and contradicts existing regulations," the constitutional watchdog group says the units were "created without the opportunity for notice and comment, in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act."
Prisoners claim they were not informed before they were transferred to or from the units, nor were they told why their communications were being monitored.
The first unit, in Terre Haute, was first disclosed in 2006 after 17 inmates were taken there without explanation, notice or hearing, according to the complaint.
Prison officials have said the units were built to house sex offenders to prevent them from contacting their victims from behind bars. They have also said the unit houses prisoners from multiple ethnic backgrounds.
Plaintiffs want the Bureau of Prisons to transfer them back to regular prisons, or to justify why they're being held in the special units. They also want the same communication rights as other prisoners, which is 300 minutes of telephone time a month.
The lawsuit was filed by Shayana Kadidal with the Center for Constitutional Rights.