2:05pm

Wed March 30, 2011
The Two-Way

Judge Allows Suit Over Restrictions On Inmates To Go Forward

A federal judge in Washington will allow inmates in two restrictive prison units designed for terrorists and other prisoners who get 24-hour monitoring to proceed with parts of their civil rights lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said prisoners and their lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights can sue over alleged violations of their due process rights. The inmates argue they didn't receive enough notice of their transfer into special Communications Management Units and that they should be able to challenge those designations. In a 38-page ruling Wednesday, the judge also wrote that the inmates should be allowed to go forward with claims of retaliation by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Two plaintiffs, Royal Jones and Daniel McGowan, claim they were sent to the restrictive CMUs because they had a history of challenging prison authorities or speaking out about social issues. McGowan, who pleaded guilty to two counts of arson in connection with an Earth Liberation Front incident, got out of one of the special units only to be sent back in with little notice last month.

NPR explored what life is like inside the CMUs in Terre Haute, Ind., and Marion, Ill., in a two-part investigative series earlier this year. [Part I is here; Part II is here.]

Bureau of Prisons chief Harley Lappin told a House appropriations panel earlier this month that about 80 inmates currently reside in the CMUs. The prison system is spending about $16 million each year on a special counter-terrorism operation that monitors inmates there and around the country, Lappin testified.

The judge tossed out several other claims by the inmates, including arguments that strict limits on their phone calls and family visits amount to cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution's Eighth Amendment. The judge also wasn't persuaded by statistics that the high number of Muslim inmates in the CMUs is a sign of discrimination.

"Judge Urbina has agreed that our clients have raised serious constitutional questions about the CMUs, and has vindicated their right to a day in court to pursue their claims," CCR Attorney Alexis Agathocleous said in an e-mail statement. Our clients were designated to the CMUs without due process or oversight, even though they have no significant history of disciplinary infractions. This led to pattern of retaliatory designations to the CMUs. In a significant victory for our clients, the court will now scrutinize the BOP's actions."

Ed Ross, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, declined comment.

(Carrie Johnson covers the Justice Department for NPR. Margot Williams is an NPR database editor.) Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.