Campaign to Abolish Control Unit Prisons
History of Control Units
In 1963 the Federal Bureau of Prisons closed down Alcatraz Prison as its highest security prison. Prisoners from Alcatraz were moved into Marion Prison in Illinois, which was placed in lockdown. Before this, lockdown was used to control and suppress disruptions within a prison by severely restricting prisoners' rights. Marion was the first prison to make lockdown a permanent condition. Marion combined permanent lockdown with sensory deprivation and administrative (rather than disciplinary) classification to create a streamlined machine for repressing those people the Department of Corrections (DOC) finds objectionable, whether for political, economic, racial, or religious reasons.
Management Control Units, or "supermax" prisons, have become the new model for prisons. As of 1993, 25 states have control units, as do the US federal government and Canada. At least 6 states were planning to build "supermax" prisons in 1993. A new control unit has just opened in Florence, Colorado, which is to replace Marion as the highest security federal prison. Prisoners are kept in permanent solitary confinement, and are not even allowed to congregate for religious services. The cells are set up so that prisoners can't see each other, and can go days without seeing guards. The furniture in their cells is not movable, physical contact is prohibited among prisoners and during visits, and telephone calls are limited even more than in regular prisoners. Florence is located in an area whose water, soil, and air is known to be contaminated with dangerous radiation levels from a nearby uranium milling plant. (These are the "official" conditions, according to the DOC. The reality remains to be seen.)
Historically, there have been many reports of human rights violations within control units, ranging from denial of medical care and arbitrary beatings to psychological torture and sensory deprivation. There is no evidence that such abuse decreases violence within the overall prison system.
How We Define "Control Unit"
Control Units go beyond the usual constraints of even maximum security prisons in an attempt to defeat revolutionary attitudes, prisoner organization and militancy, jailhouse legal and administrative challenges, and anything else prison administrators deem objectionable.
While conditions vary from prison to prison, the goal of these units is always to cause spiritual, psychological, and physical breakdown of the prisoners. Included in the oppressive conditions are:
Prisoners are placed in Control Units for administrative and/or disciplinary reasons. The classification hearings, if they occur at all, can only be called a "kangaroo court" at which the prisoner is denied due process.
- Years of isolation from both prison and outside communities while being housed in solitary or small group isolation (celled 22.5 hours / day).
- denial of access to educational, religious, or work programs.
- physical torture such as forced cell extractions, four point restraint and hogtying, caging, beating after restraint, back room beatings, and set-up fights.
- mental torture such as sensory deprivation, forced idleness, verbal harassment, mail tampering, disclosing confidential information, confessions forced under torture, and threats against family and visitors.
- denial of access to medical and psychiatric care.
Various names are assigned to Control Units: Adjustment Center, Security Housing Unit, Maximum Control Complex, Administrative Maximum (Ad-Max), Special Housing Unit, Violence Control Unit, Special Management Unit, Intensive Management Unit, etc. While every prison has Administrative Segregation cells (Ad-Seg) used for holding prisoners in short-term disciplinary or protective custody, Control Units are used for long-term punishment and campaigns against many prisoner groups and activities.
History of the Campaign
The Campaign to Abolish Control Unit Prisons is a coalition a individuals and groups inside and outside prison walls whose combined goal is the shutting down of each and every control unit that exists or is being built in the United States. The Coalition was founded at a gathering hosted by the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia, PA in December 1994 that brought together over 40 people and organizations concerned with the overwhelming increase of the use of the control unit on both Federal and State levels. In the absence of their ability to be physically present, prisoner's ideas about the campaign expressed in letters where of vital importance to those who attended.
Statement of Purpose
Control Units lie at the heart of the burgeoning use of imprisonment. These high-tech "prisons within prisons" are built to control convicts in every way possible. The effects of Control Units reach from the prison to the community. They are a means of political, economic, and social control of the whole class of oppressed and disenfranchised people, especially African, Latino, and Indigenous people who are disproportionately their victims. The National Campaign to Stop Control Units Prisons believes these torture chambers must be shut down. As a network of individuals and organizations, both in and outside prison walls, we are engaged in data collection, education, fostering public awareness and action to put an end to the human rights abuses occurring daily in Control Units.
Structure of Campaign Organization
The National Campaign is formed as a federation of independent groups and individuals who agree to carry out the stated purposes. In order to facilitate this, the activities of the Campaign are conducted by two interdependent and parallel committees.
1. Political Action Committee:
Campaign members are responsible to meet, plan, and carry out activities that will forward our stated purposes. Emphasis is placed on building the capacity for effective protest, publicity, emergency response, and ultimately direct action. Whenever possible, prisoners in Control Unit prisons will be encouraged to participate. For more information on this committee, contact:
Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, Coordinator
c/o The Rest of the News
2014 Citico Ave.
Chattanooga, TN 37404
2. Monitoring Committee:
Identification and monitoring of Control Unit prisons serves to collect data, create practical inside-outside bridges and involve citizens in a committed way to the Campaign's work. The information collected will be invaluable for keeping track of government torture and future litigation. To ensure stability and consistency of the monitoring activities, the delegation of responsibilities is done with care. Regional monitoring coordinators are:
Dema Mantooth: East
PO Box 1034
Mott Street Station
Bronx NY 10454
Christie Donner: Midwest
Rocky Mountain Peace Center
1523 6th Street
Boulder CO 80302
Corey Weinstein: West
Pelican Bay Information Project
2489 Mission St. #28
San Francisco CA 94110
Bonnie Kerness of the American Friends Service Committee is responsible for general national organizing and internal communications. Pat Clark of AFSC is responsible for national mailings:
972 Broad Street 6th Floor
Newark NJ 07102
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia PA 19102
How You can Get Involved
We are currently trying to make connections with groups across the U.S. who are interested in helping us oppose and shut down control units. If you are interested in the activities of the action committee, contact Lorenzo Ervin for more information, if you are interested in the monitoring committee, contact the coordinator in your region.
Last modified: 21 March 1995