A couple weeks ago at the Women’s Building in San Francisco’s Mission District, a number of prisoner rights groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Prison Law Office hosted a panel discussion on the growing use of isolation units in US prisons. Full audio is above, courtesy of Indybay. Just as background, there are several types of isolation unit:
- Most prisons have an “adjustment center” (colloquially referred to as “the hole”) for those who break prison rules or need to be isolated for safety.
- Supermax prisons have “security housing units,” which are designed to hold people convicted of in-prison crimes, people who are validated gang members, and people who’re deemed “program failures” in intense isolation. The difference between an adjustment center and a SHU is the level of isolation–the cell in a typical SHU will be completely silent; an adjustment center, reportedly, can be very loud.
- Communication Management Units are a federal invention, first introduced in 2006 and designed to hold terror suspects. There are two CMUs in the country, within 200 miles of each other in Marion, Illinois and Terre Haute, Indiana. The units are about 60 percent Muslim and also house those accused of domestic terrorism in connection with things like animal rights activism, racial hate groups, and secessionists. Those in CMUs have extremely limited communications with the outside world, all of which are closely monitored by prison staff. They’re not allowed physical contact and are often subjected to strip searches.
The panel discussion focused on the increasing use of these units, some legal battles underway surrounding their use, as well as questions about who ends up in isolation and why.