Prisoners' Rights

Criminal convictions and lawful imprisonment allow for certain limitations on citi-
zens’ freedoms and other constitutional rights,
but prisoners retain such rights
when they are compatible with the objectives of incarceration.
Federal courts are
reluctant to intervene in internal prison administration
and therefore give wide
ranging deference to the judgment of prison off‌icials.
A prison regulation that
3072. See Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington, 566 U.S. 318, 327, 336 (2012) (lawful
imprisonment deprives citizens of many signif‌icant rights even if crimes are minor); Hudson v. Palmer, 468
U.S. 517, 524 (1984) (lawful imprisonment deprives citizens of many signif‌icant rights); see also Vitek v.
Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 493 (1980) (conviction and sentencing deprive citizens of right to freedom from
conf‌inement); see e.g., J.B. ex rel. Benjamin v. Fassnacht, 801 F.3d 336, 343-44 (3d Cir. 2015) (lawful
imprisonment in juvenile detention centers deprive juveniles of signif‌icant rights); Mabry v. Lee County, 849
F.3d 232, 238 (5th Cir. 2017) (same).
3073. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974) (prisoners retain due process rights subject to
restrictions imposed by nature of penal system); see also Holt v. Hobbs, 574 U.S. 352, 369 (2015) (prisoners
retain religious rights, which may not be substantially burdened except to fulf‌ill compelling governmental
interest); Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 223 (2005) (prisoners retain due process right to freedom from
restraint imposing atypical and signif‌icant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison
life); Johnson v. California, 543 U.S. 499, 514 (2005) (prisoners retain right to equal protection of laws);
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (prisoners retain 8th Amendment right to freedom from cruel and
unusual punishment); Hudson, 468 U.S. at 523 (prisoners retain rights compatible with objectives of
incarceration); Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977) (prisoners retain right of access to courts), overruled
on other grounds by Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996); see e.g. Incumaa v. Stirling, 791 F.3d 517, 531 (4th
Cir. 2015) (prisoners forced to live in solitary or supermax prisons should not experience signif‌icantly worse
conditions); Hardeman v. Curran, 933 F.3d 816, 825 (7th Cir. 2019) (prisoners retain right to sanitary
conditions as compatible with objectives of incarceration). But see, e.g., Prieto v. Clarke, 780 F.3d 245, 251
(4th Cir. 2015) (prisoners retain right to avoid erroneous hardship only when combined with harsh and atypical
conditions); Williams v. City of Cleveland, 907 F.3d 924, 937 (6th Cir. 2018) (prisoners retain right to
alternatives to their rights, but prison need not ignore reasonable risks of alternative policies).
The Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect pretrial detainees. See Kingsley v.
Hendrickson, 576 U.S. 389, 402 (2015) (courts use objective standardof review for pretrial detainees’
excessive force claims brought under 14th Amendment). Due Process Clause protections for pretrial detainees
are at least as great as the Eighth Amendment protections available to a convicted prisoner.City of Revere v.
Mass. Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983).
For further discussion of this topic, see Rights of Pretrial Detainees in this Section.
3074. See Turner v. Saf‌ley, 482 U.S. 78, 84-85 (1987) (courts should exercise judicial restraint out of
concern for separation of powers and state sovereignty because prison administration is legislative and
executive branches’ responsibility); see also Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 482 (1995) (courts should give
deference and f‌lexibility to state off‌icials managing volatile prison environment); Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S.
337, 352 (1981) (courts should not assume prison off‌icials insensitive to constitutional requirements or
problems of achieving goals of penal system). However, deference is limited post-Turner for protected classes
of individuals. See Johnson v. California, 543 U.S. 499, 513-14 (2005) (courts shall subject racial
classif‌ications in prisons to strict scrutiny, not Turner-deference); Brown v. Collier, 929 F.3d 218, 243 (5th Cir.
2019) (courts should give strict scrutiny to policies affording certain faiths more favorable treatment if not
necessary for prison administration, but Turner-deference to rights which must be limited in prison contexts);
Harrison v. Kernan, 971 F.3d 1069, 1080 (9th Cir. 2020) (courts shall subject gender-based regulations to
intermediate scrutiny, not Turner-deference).
3075. See Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 827 (1974) (courts should ordinarily defer to prison
administrators’ expertise on policies needed to ensure institutional security); see also Kingsley, 576 U.S. at 397
(courts should defer to expert judgment of jail off‌icials); Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003) (courts
should defer to professional judgment of prison administrators); Jones v. N.C. Prisoners’ Lab. Union, Inc., 433
U.S. 119, 126 (1977) (courts should defer to decisions of prison off‌icials). Courts are especially deferential
when off‌icial policy or action is needed to restore or maintain internal prison order. See Whitley v. Albers, 475
U.S. 312, 321 (1986) (deference to good-faith judgment of prison off‌icials carries special weightwhen
responding to disturbance); see, e.g., Snell v. Neville, 998 F.3d 474, 501 (1st Cir. 2021) (judicial deference to
prison off‌icial’s decision not to issue accommodations for prisoner lacking doctor’s permission due to concern
for security and order); Williams v. Morton, 343 F.3d 212, 218 (3d Cir. 2003) (judicial deference to prison
off‌icials’ decision to provide dietary accommodations to maintain prison order); Stanley v. Hejirika, 134 F.3d
51 Geo. L.J. Ann. Rev. Crim. Proc. (2022) 1187
infringes on a prisoner’s constitutional rights must be reasonably related to legiti-
mate penological interests.
Several factors are relevant in determining whether a
regulation is reasonable: (1) whether a valid, rational connectionexists between
the regulation and the legitimate interest that would be advanced by its enactment;
(2) whether alternative means of exercising the asserted right would remain avail-
able; (3) whether accommodation of the asserted right would adversely affect guards,
other inmates, or the allocation of prison resources; and (4) whether an obvious, less
burdensome alternative to the regulation exists.
629, 636 (4th Cir. 1998) (judicial deference to prison off‌icials using force to subdue inmate during prison
uprising); Lewis v. Sec’y of Pub. Safety & Corr., 870 F.3d 365, 368-69 (5th Cir. 2017) (judicial deference to
prison off‌icials conducting strip searches to control f‌low of contraband and ensure security); Griff‌in v.
Hardrick, 604 F.3d 949, 954-56 (6th Cir. 2010) (judicial discretion to prison off‌icials performing leg-sweep
maneuverto bring pretrial detainee to the f‌loor when inmate created disturbance); Mays v. Dart, 974 F.3d 810,
820-21 (7th Cir. 2020) (judicial deference to prison off‌icials in pandemic when considering housing
circumstances of prisoners); Simpson v. County of Cape Girardeau, 879 F.3d 273, 281 (8th Cir. 2018) (judicial
deference to prison off‌icials instituting postcard-only mail policy for safety and welfare); Olivier v. Baca, 913
F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2019) (judicial deference to prison off‌icials segregating inmate from general population
and not assigning him bed during inmate disturbances); Redmond v. Crowther, 882 F.3d 927, 938 (10th Cir.
2018) (judicial deference to prison off‌icials inadvertently exposing innocent inmates to tear gas while subduing
dangerous, noncompliant inmate); Cockrell v. Sparks, 510 F.3d 1307, 1311 (11th Cir. 2007) (judicial deference
to prison off‌icials giving inmate open-ended push or shove even if causes broken bones). But see, e.g., Battista
v. Clarke, 645 F.3d 449, 455 (1st Cir. 2011) (no judicial deference for prison off‌icials violating 8th Amendment
by prohibiting access for male prisoner with Gender Identity Disorder to hormone therapy and female
clothing); Frost v. New York City Police Dep’t, 980 F.3d 231, 254 (2d Cir. 2020) (no judicial deference for
prison off‌icials when striking prisoner who posed no threat to institutional security and was compliant); King v.
Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 216 (4th Cir. 2016) (no judicial deference to prison off‌icials violating 4th, 8th, and
14th Amendments by acting without legitimate purpose to subject prisoner to surgery); Henry v. Hulett, 969
F.3d 769, 784 (7th Cir. 2020) (no judicial deference to prison off‌icials when level of intrusion outweighed
justif‌ication for invasive search); Shorter v. Baca, 895 F.3d 1176, 1184 (9th Cir. 2018) (no judicial deference to
prison off‌icials violating 14th Amendment by shackling mentally ill, virtually unclothed, female pretrial
detainees to their cell doors for hours at a time).
3076. See Turner, 482 U.S. at 89; see also Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 528 (2006); Shaw v. Murphy, 532
U.S. 223, 229-30 (2001) (restrictive prison regulations permissible if reasonably related to legitimate
penological interests (quoting Turner, 482 U.S. at 89)).
3077. See Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-91; see also Beard, 548 U.S. at 531-33 (regulation forbidding certain
prisoners access to newspapers, magazines, and photos reasonable under Turner); Overton, 539 U.S. at 132-36
(regulation requiring children to be with family member or legal guardian during visitation reasonable under
Turner); see, e.g., Kuperman v. Wrenn, 645 F.3d 69, 74-77 (1st Cir. 2011) (regulation restricting length of
Jewish inmate’s beard reasonable under Turner); Pilgrim v. Luther, 571 F.3d 201, 205 (2d Cir. 2009)
(regulation limiting prisoners’ rights to organize and petition reasonable under Turner); Fontroy v. Beard, 559
F.3d 173, 178-83 (3d Cir. 2009) (regulation requiring courts and attorneys to specif‌ically mark mail, causing
legal mail to be opened outside inmate’s presence, reasonable under Turner); Matherly v. Andrews, 859 F.3d
264, 282-83 (4th Cir. 2017) (regulation requiring review of all incoming and outgoing nonlegal mail for civil
detainees reasonable under Turner); Brown v. Collier, 929 F.3d 218, 245-46 (5th Cir. 2019) (regulation
requiring prison guard to supervise religious activities of over 4 inmates reasonable under Turner); Bethel v.
Jenkins, 988 F.3d 931, 938-41 (6th Cir. 2021) (regulation prohibiting inmates from receiving third-party book
orders from unapproved vendors reasonable under Turner); Nigl v. Litscher, 940 F.3d 329, 334-36 (7th Cir.
2019) (regulation prohibiting inmate from marrying former prison psychologist reasonable under Turner);
Simpson v. County of Cape Girardeau, 879 F.3d 273, 280-82 (8th Cir. 2018) (regulation limiting incoming
inmate mail to postcards reasonable under Turner); Crime Just. & Am., Inc. v. Honea, 876 F.3d 966, 972-78
(9th Cir. 2017) (regulation banning unsolicited commercial mail to inmates reasonable under Turner); Al-
Owhali v. Holder, 687 F.3d 1236, 1240-41 (10th Cir. 2012) (regulation barring inmate from communicating
with family reasonable under Turner); Pesci v. Budz, 935 F.3d 1159, 1166-71 (11th Cir. 2019) (regulation
prohibiting distribution of inmate newsletter reasonable under Turner); Aref v. Lynch, 833 F.3d 242, 260-61
(D.C. Cir. 2016) (decision denying unit transfer for inmate who performed allegedly radicalizing sermons
reasonable under Turner). But see, e.g., Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 275, 277-78 (2d Cir. 2006)
(regulation imposing joint Ramadan ceremonies for Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, excluding Muslim prisoner
from religious services while in isolated conf‌inement, and forcing Muslim prisoner to choose between religious
meal attendance and law library use unreasonable under Turner); Jones v. Brown, 461 F.3d 353, 363-64 (3d
1188 51 Geo. L.J. Ann. Rev. Crim. Proc. (2022)
The Constitution guarantees prisoners the right of meaningful access to the
This right of access imposes an aff‌irmative duty on prison off‌icials to help
inmates prepare and f‌ile legal papers, either by establishing an adequate law library
Cir. 2006) (inspection of legal mail, which posed no signif‌icant risk of harm, outside prisoners’ presence
unreasonable under Turner); Heyer v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 849 F.3d 202, 218-19 (4th Cir. 2017) (decision
denying deaf inmate videophone for communication unreasonable under Turner); Maye v. Klee, 915 F.3d
1076, 1083-84 (6th Cir. 2019) (regulation preventing prisoner from celebrating religious holiday unreasonable
under Turner); Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 551-52 (7th Cir. 2009) (action retaliating against prisoner who
testif‌ied against prison guards involved in abuse incident unreasonable under Turner); Roe v. Crawford, 514
F.3d 789, 795-98 (8th Cir. 2008) (policy prohibiting transport of prisoners offsite to receive nontherapeutic
abortions unreasonable under Turner); Entler v. Gregoire, 872 F.3d 1031, 1041-43 (9th Cir. 2017) (discipline
punishing prisoners for threatening to sue unreasonable under Turner); Boles v. Neet, 486 F.3d 1177, 1182-83
(10th Cir. 2007) (stance refusing prisoner’s right to wear religious garments during transportation from prison
to offsite hospital absent security concerns unreasonable under Turner); Al-Amin v. Smith, 511 F.3d 1317,
1330-32 (11th Cir. 2008) (practice allowing prison off‌icials to open privileged attorney mail outside receiving
prisoner’s presence unreasonable under Turner).
The Supreme Court specif‌ically rejected a test that would have required all prison regulations to be the least
restrictive alternative.Turner, 482 U.S. at 90. However, the existence of an alternative regulation better suited to
accommodate a prisoner’s rights may be evidence that the regu lation is an unreasonable exaggerated responseto
penal concerns. Id. at 90-91 (noting that under least restrictive alternativetest, prison off‌icials are not required to set
up and then shoot down every conceivable alternative method of accommodatingasserted rights); see also
Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 414 (1989) (rejecting least restrictive alternativetest and adopting Turner
reasonableness standard for regulations restrict ing publications sent to prisoners).
As for prisoners’ religious liberties, the Supreme Court has noted that the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a), requires the government to adopt
the least restrictive meanswhenever a regulation substantially burdens a prisoner’s religious exercise. [I]f a
less restrictive means is available ...,thegovernment must use it.Holt v. Hobbs, 574 U.S. 352, 365 (2015)
(quoting U.S. v. Playboy Ent. Grp., Inc., 529 U.S. 803, 815 (2000)).
Prison policies relying on racial segregation must be the least restrictive means for accomplishing legitimate
penological interests. See Johnson v. Cal., 543 U.S. 499, 510 (2005) (right against racial discrimination need
not be compromised to advance proper prison administration).
3078. See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977) (prisoners have right to adequa te, effective, and
meaningful access to courts to challenge violations of constitutional ri ghts), overruledinpartbyLewis
v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996); see also Johnson v. Avery, 3 93 U.S. 483, 485 (1969) (prisoners’ right of
access to courts may not be denied or obstructed); see, e.g., Morello v. James, 810 F.2d 344, 345-47 (2d
Cir. 1987) (prisoner’s right of access to courts denied when prison off‌icials deprived access to pro se
legal work materials); Bieregu v. Reno, 59 F.3d 1445, 1 455 (3d Cir. 1995) (prisoner’s right of access to
courts denied by prison off‌icials continually open ing prisoner’s court mail outside prisoner’s presence),
overruled on other grounds by Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996); Dorn v. Laff‌ler, 601 F.3d 439,443-
44 (6th Cir. 2010) (prisoner’s right of access to courts violated when prison off‌icia ls failed to mail
prisoner’s appellate papers until after f‌iling deadline); Lehn v. Holmes, 3 64 F.3d 862, 870 (7th Cir. 2004)
(prisoner’s right of access to court denied when prison library lacked out-of-state legal materials
necessary for prisoner to mount state law attack ag ainst out-of-state indictment); Hershberger v.
Scaletta, 33 F.3d 955, 956 (8th Cir. 1994) (prisoner’s right of access to court denied when prisoner
off‌icials charged indigent inmates for postage for legal mail); Trujillov. Williams, 465 F.3d 1210, 1226-
27 (10th Cir. 2006) (prisoner’s right of access to courts denied w hen prison off‌icials used exact cite
system requiring prisoner to know exactly what was neede d to request without knowing available
materials). But see, e.g., Polanco v. Hopkins, 510 F.3d 152, 156 (2d Cir. 2007)(prisoner’s right of access
to courts not denied when statute bars certain individuals from receiving in forma pauperis status);
O’Dell v. Netherland, 112 F.3d 773, 776 (4th Cir. 1997) (prisoner’s ri ght of access to courts not denied
when prison off‌icials denied contact visit with paralega l); Driggers v. Cruz, 740 F.3d 333, 336-37 (5th
Cir. 2014) (prisoner’s right of access to courts not denied when r equired to pay quarterly f‌ine); Taylor v.
McKee, 649 F.3d 446, 452-53 (6th Cir. 2011) (prisoner’s right of access to courts not denied when not
provided with legal writer); Owens v. Evans, 878 F.3d 559, 5 65 (7th Cir. 2017) (prisoner’s right of
access to courts not denied whenprison librarian denied prisoner’s request to make copies of grievances,
access legal storage boxes, and obtain papers); Beaulie u v. Ludeman, 690 F.3d 1017, 1047 (8th Cir.
2012) (prisoner’s right of access to courts not deni ed when prison off‌icials denied prisoner’s requests to
use legal computer to prove actual injuryafter court extension); Blaisdell v. Frappiea, 729 F.3d 1237,
51 Geo. L.J. Ann. Rev. Crim. Proc. (2022) 1189

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