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ADX Prison Transfer Didn't Violate Terrorists' Due Process Rights

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The ADX Florence supermax prison has been described as "the Alcatraz of the Rockies" and "a clean version of Hell." It's not surprising that prisoners hope to avoid the secluded facility in Central Colorado. But should transfer to ADX Florence come with due process rights?

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals doesn't think so.

Airplane hijacker Omar Rezaq and 1993 World Trade Center bomb conspirators Mohammed Saleh, Ibrahim Elgabrowny, and El-Sayyid Nosair -- all of whom are currently incarcerated in the federal prison system -- lost an appeal this week regarding their transfer to ADX Florence. The plaintiffs had claimed that they have a liberty interest in avoiding transfer without due process to ADX Florence, where they were formerly housed. The district court disagreed, finding that the plaintiffs lack a cognizable liberty interest in avoiding confinement at ADX.

The plaintiffs were initially assigned to general population units at U.S. penitentiaries. They were each subsequently transferred to the general population unit at ADX Florence between 1997 and 2003. The prisoners claim they did nothing while in custody to warrant increased confinement, and that the government offered no legitimate chance to show that they could return to lower-security prisons. The government said the nature of their crimes made the move necessary, reports The Denver Post. The plaintiffs did not receive hearings before they were transferred to ADX.

In the penological context, not every deprivation of liberty at the hands of prison officials is a constitutional issue because incarcerated persons retain only a "narrow range of protected liberty interests." A protected liberty interest only arises from a transfer to harsher conditions of confinement when an inmate faces an "atypical and significant hardship ... in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life."

Here, the court found that the conditions at ADX Florence do not, in and of themselves, give rise to a liberty interest because they are substantially similar to conditions experienced in any solitary confinement setting. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the inmates lack a cognizable liberty interest in avoiding the conditions of confinement at ADX, so no due process protections were required before they were transferred to that facility.

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