CRS Annotated Constitution
|Fourteenth Amendment -- Table of Contents||Prev | Next|
Rights of Prisoners.—Until relatively recently the view prevailed that a prisoner “has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is for the time being the slave of the state.”139 This view is not now the law, and may never have been wholly correct.140 In 1948 the Court declared that “[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights”;141 “many,” indicated less than “all,” and it was clear that the due process and equal protection clauses to some extent do apply to prisoners.142 More direct acknowledgment of constitutional protection came in 1972: “[f]ederal courts sit not to supervise prisons but to enforce the constitutional rights of all ‘persons,’ which include prisoners. We are[p.1773]not unmindful that prison officials must be accorded latitude in the administration of prison affairs, and that prisoners necessarily are subject to appropriate rules and regulations. But persons in prison, like other individuals, have the right to petition the Government for redress of grievances. . . .”143 However, while the Court affirmed that federal courts have the responsibility to scrutinize prison practices alleged to violate the Constitution, at the same time concerns of federalism and of judicial restraint caused the Court to emphasize the necessity of deference to the judgments of prison officials and others with responsibility for administering such systems.144
Save for challenges to conditions of confinement of pretrial detainees,145 the Court has generally treated challenges to prison conditions as a whole under the cruel and unusual punishments clause of the Eighth Amendment,146 and challenges to particular incidents and practices under the due process clause147 as well as under more specific provisions, such as the First Amendment speech and religion clauses.148 Prior to formulating its current approach, the Court recognized several rights of prisoners. Prisoners have a right to be free of racial segregation in prisons, except for the necessities of prison security and discipline.149 They have the right to petition for redress of grievances, which includes access to the courts for purposes of presenting their complaints,150 and to bring actions in federal courts to recover for damages wrongfully[p.1774]done them by prison administrators.151 And they have a right, circumscribed by legitimate prison administration considerations, to fair and regular treatment during their incarceration.
In Turner v. Safley,152 the Court announced a general standard for measuring prisoners’ claims of deprivation of constitutional rights. “[W]hen a regulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.”153 Several considerations, the Court indicated, are appropriate in determining reasonableness of a prison regulation. First, there must be a rational relation to a legitimate, content–neutral objective, such as prison security, broadly defined. Availability of other avenues for exercise of the inmate right suggests reasonableness. A further indicium of reasonableness is present if accommodation would have a negative effect on liberty or safety of guards or other inmates. On the other hand, an alternative to regulation “that fully accommodated the prisoner’s rights at de minimis cost to valid penological interests” suggests unreasonableness.154
Fourth Amendment protection is incompatible with “the concept of incarceration and the needs and objectives of penal institutions,” hence a prisoner has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his prison cell protecting him from “shakedown” searches designed to root out weapons, drugs, and other contraband.155 Avenues of redress “for calculated harassment unrelated to prison needs” are not totally blocked, the Court indicated; inmates may still seek protection in the Eighth Amendment or in state tort law.156 Existence of “a meaningful postdeprivation remedy” for unauthorized, intentional deprivation of an inmate’s property by prison personnel protects the inmate’s due process rights.157 Due process is not impli[p.1775]cated at all by negligent deprivation of life, liberty, or property by prison officials.158
In Wolff v. McDonnell,159 the Court promulgated due process standards to govern the imposition of discipline upon prisoners. Due process applies, but since prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution the full panoply of rights of a defendant is not available. Rather, the analysis must proceed on a basis of identifying the interest in “liberty” which the clause protects.
Where the state provides for good–time credit or other privileges and further provides for forfeiture of these privileges only for serious misconduct, the interest of the prisoner in this degree of “liberty” entitles him to those minimum procedures appropriate under the circumstances.160 What the minimum procedures consist of is to be determined by balancing the prisoner’s interest against the valid interest of the prison in maintaining security and order in the institution, in protecting guards and prisoners against retaliation by other prisoners, and in reducing prison tensions. The Court held in Wolff that the prison must afford the subject of a disciplinary proceeding advance written notice of the claimed violation and a written statement of the factfindings as to the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the action taken; also, the inmate should be allowed to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in defense when permitting him to do so will not hazard the institution’s interests.161 Confrontation and cross–examination of adverse witnesses is not required inasmuch as these would no doubt hazard valid institutional interests. Ordinarily, an inmate has no right to representation by retained or appointed counsel. Finally, only a partial right to an impartial tribunal was recognized, the Court ruling that limitations imposed on the discretion of a committee of prison officials sufficed for this purpose.162 Revocation of good time credits, the Court later ruled, must be supported by “some evidence in the record,” but an amount that “might be characterized as meager” is constitutionally sufficient.163[p.1776]
Determination whether due process requires a hearing before a prisoner is transferred from one institution to another requires a close analysis of the applicable statutes and regulations as well as a consideration of the particular harm suffered by the transferee. On the one hand, the Court found that no hearing need be held prior to the transfer from one prison to another prison in which the conditions were substantially less favorable. Since the State had not conferred any right to remain in the facility to which the prisoner was first assigned, defeasible upon the commission of acts for which transfer is a punishment, prison officials had unfettered discretion to transfer any prisoner for any reason or for no reason at all; consequently, there was nothing to hold a hearing about.164 The same principles govern interstate prison transfers.165 On the other hand, transfer of a prisoner to a mental hospital pursuant to a statute authorizing transfer if the inmate suffers from a “mental disease or defect” must be preceded by a hearing for two alternative reasons. First, the statute gave the inmate a liberty interest since it presumed he would not be moved absent a finding he was suffering from a mental disease or defect. Second, unlike transfers from one prison to another, transfer to a mental institution was not within the range of confinement covered by the prisoner’s sentence, and, moreover, imposed a stigma constituting a deprivation of a liberty interest.166
What kind of a hearing is required before a state may force a mentally ill prisoner to take antipsychotic drugs against his will was at issue in Washington v. Harper.167 There the Court held that a judicial hearing was not required. Instead, the inmate’s substantive liberty interest (derived from the Due Process Clause as well as from state law) was adequately protected by an administrative hearing before independent medical professionals, at which hearing the inmate has the right to a lay advisor but not an attorney.
Supplement: [P. 1773, add to n.150:]
Establishing a right of access to law materials, however, requires an individualized demonstration of an inmate having been hindered in efforts to pursue a legal claim. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996) (no requirement that the State “enable [a] prisoner to discover grievances, and to litigate effectively”).
|Fourteenth Amendment -- Table of Contents||Prev | Next|