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Bureau of Prisons Proposed Rule Strictly Limits Prisoners’ Contact with the Outside World

Today the Brennan Center for Justice urged policymakers to reevaluate a proposed federal rule that would severely limit prisoners’ ability to stay in touch with their families and communities. Other progressive groups and corrections policy experts also pushed for the rule change.

June 2, 2010

Rule could stymie re-entry and make us less safe, Brennan Center and Corrections Experts Say

For Immediate Release, June 2

Contact: Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289

New York -- Today the Brennan Center for Justice urged policymakers to reevaluate a proposed federal rule that would severely limit prisoners’ ability to stay in touch with their families and communities. Other progressive groups and corrections policy experts also pushed for the rule change.

The proposed rule would empower the Federal Bureau of Prisons to place certain prisoners in so-called “Communication Management Units” or “CMUs.” Once there, prisoners’ communications would be restricted to one letter per week, one telephone call and one visitor per month. Without exception, the visits would occur through glass partitions, preventing prisoners from hugging or kissing family members.

“These measures may seem like they’re tough on crime, but they will ultimately prove counterproductive,” said David Shapiro, Brennan Center attorney.

The Brennan Center’s comments asserted that “cutting off communication between inmates and their families makes our streets and our prisons less safe. Time and again, empirical research has shown that inmates who maintain strong connections with their families are less likely to make criminal activity a way of life.”

The Brennan Center also argued that the government “should avoid overbroad restrictions on communications between inmates and family members” and criticized the standards and procedures that can land a prisoner in a Communication Management Unit. While the units were designed primarily for prisoners thought to have connections to terrorism or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, the proposed criteria for placement in a CMU are so broad as to sweep up virtually anyone. For example, the government could send a prisoner to a CMU when there is “any” evidence of a “potential” threat to prison order caused by a prisoner’s communications – a very low threshold.

The Brennan Center asked the government to provide greater procedural protections, including hearings and an opportunity to call witnesses, before sending prisoners to CMUs. “The thin procedures contemplated by the proposed rule will land inmates in CMUs whose presence there is unjustified, and leave them with no meaningful way to challenge their designation,” the comments asserted.

For more information or to set up an interview, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212-998-6289 or at jeanine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu