Sandin v. Conner (93-1911), 515 U.S. 472 (1995).
[ Ginsburg ]
[ Breyer ]
[ Rehnquist ]
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NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.


No. 93-1911


on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

[June 19, 1995]

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to reexamine the circumstances under which state prison regulations afford inmates a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.

DeMont Conner was convicted of numerous state crimes, including murder, kidnaping, robbery, and burglary, for which he is currently serving an indeterminate sentence of 30 years to life in a Hawaii prison. He was confined in the Halawa Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in central Oahu. In August 1987, a prison officer escorted him from his cell to the module program area. The officer subjected Conner to a strip search, complete with an inspection of the rectal area. Conner retorted with angry and foul language directed at the officer. Eleven days later he received notice that he had been charged with disciplinary infractions. The notice charged Conner with "high misconduct" for using physical interference to impair a correctional function, and "low moderate misconduct" for using abusive or obscene language and for harassing employees. [n.1]

Conner appeared before an adjustment committee on August 28, 1987. The committee refused Conner's request to present witnesses at the hearing, stating that "[w]itnesses were unavailable due to move [sic] to the medium facility and being short staffed on the modules." App. to Pet. for Cert. A67. At the conclusion of proceedings, the committee determined that Conner was guilty of the alleged misconduct. It sentenced him to 30 days disciplinary segregation in the Special Holding Unit [n.2] for the physical obstruction charge, and four hours segregation for each of the other two charges to be served concurrent with the 30 days. Id., at A66-67. Conner's segregation began August 31, 1987, and ended September 29, 1987.

Conner sought administrative review within 14 days of receiving the committee's decision. Haw. Admin. Rule §17-201-20(a) (1983). Nine months later, the deputy administrator found the high misconduct charge unsupported and expunged Conner's disciplinary record with respect to that charge. App. 249. But before the Deputy Administrator decided the appeal, Conner had brought this suit against the adjustment committee chair and other prison officials in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii based on Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His amended complaint prayed for injunctive relief, declaratory relief and damages for, among other things, a deprivation of procedural due process in connection with the disciplinary hearing. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the prison officials.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the judgment. Conner v. Sakai, 15 F. 3d 1463 (1993). It concluded that Conner had a liberty interest in remaining free from disciplinary segregation and that there was a disputed question of fact with respect to whether Conner received all of the process due under this Court's pronouncement in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). 15 F. 3d, at 1466. The Court of Appeals based its conclusion on a prison regulation that instructs the committee to find guilt when a charge of misconduct is supported by substantial evidence. Haw. Admin. Rule §17-201-18(b)(2) (1983). [n.3] The Court of Appeals reasoned from Kentucky Department of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454 (1989), that the committee's duty to find guilt was nondiscretionary. From the language of the regulation, it drew a negative inference that the committee may not impose segregation if it does not find substantial evidence of misconduct. 15 F. 3d, at 1466. It viewed this as a state created liberty interest, and therefore held that respondent was entitled to call witnesses by virtue of our opinion in Wolff, supra. We granted the State's petition for certiorari, 513 U. S. __ (1994), and now reverse.

Our due process analysis begins with Wolff. There, Nebraska inmates challenged the decision of prison officials to revoke good time credits without adequate procedures. Wolff, 418 U. S., at 553. Inmates earned good time credits under a state statute that bestowed mandatory sentence reductions for good behavior, id., at 546, n. 6, revocable only for " `flagrant or serious misconduct,' " id., at 545, n. 5 (citation omitted). We held that the Due Process Clause itself does not create a liberty interest in credit for good behavior, but that the statutory provision created a liberty interest in a "shortened prison sentence" which resulted from good time credits, credits which were revocable only if the prisoner was guilty of serious misconduct. Id., at 557. The Court characterized this liberty interest as one of "real substance" ibid., and articulated minimum procedures necessary to reach a "mutual accommodation between institutional needs and objectives and the provisions of the Constitution." Id., at 556. Much of Wolff's contribution to the landscape of prisoners' due process derived not from its description of liberty interests, but rather from its intricate balancing of prison management concerns with prisoners' liberty in determining the amount of process due. Its short discussion of the definition of a liberty interest, Wolff, supra, at 556-558, led to a more thorough treatment of the issue in Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215 (1976).

Inmates in Meachum sought injunctive relief, declaratory relief and damages by reason of transfers from a Massachusetts medium security prison to a maximum security facility with substantially less favorable conditions. The transfers were ordered in the aftermath of arson incidents for which the transferred inmates were thought to be responsible, and did not entail a loss of good time credits or any period of disciplinary confinement. Id., at 222. The Court began with the proposition that the Due Process Clause does not protect every change in the conditions of confinement having a substantial adverse impact on the prisoner. Id., at 224. It then held that the Due Process Clause did not itself create a liberty interest in prisoners to be free from intrastate prison transfers. Id., at 225. It reasoned that transfer to a maximum security facility, albeit one with more burdensome conditions, was "within the normal limits or range of custody which the conviction has authorized the State to impose." Ibid; see also Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236, 242 (1976). The Court distinguished Wolff by noting that there the protected liberty interest in good time credit had been created by state law; here no comparable Massachusetts law stripped officials of the discretion to transfer prisoners to alternate facilities "for whatever reason or for no reason at all." Meachum, supra, at 228. [n.4]

Shortly after Meachum, the Court embarked on a different approach to defining state created liberty interests. Because dictum in Meachum distinguished Wolff by focusing on whether state action was mandatory or discretionary, the Court in later cases laid ever greater emphasis on this somewhat mechanical dichotomy. Greenholtz v. Inmates of Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1 (1979), foreshadowed the methodology that would come to full fruition in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460 (1983). The Greenholtz inmates alleged that they had been unconstitutionally denied parole. Their claim centered on a state statute that set the date for discretionary parole at the time the minimum term of imprisonment less good time credits expired. The statute ordered release of a prisoner at that time, unless one of four specific conditions were shown. 442 U. S., at 11. The Court apparently accepted the inmates' argument that the word "shall" in the statute created a legitimate expectation of release absent the requisite finding that one of the justifications for deferral existed, since the Court concluded that some measure of constitutional protection was due. Nevertheless, the State ultimately prevailed because the minimal process it had awarded the prisoners was deemed sufficient under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Court made explicit in Hewitt what was implicit in Greenholtz. In evaluating the claims of inmates who had been confined to administrative segregation, it first rejected the inmates' claim of a right to remain in the general population as protected by the Due Process Clause on the authority of Meachum, Montanye, and Vitek. The Due Process Clause standing alone confers no liberty interest in freedom from state action taken "`within the sentence imposed,'" 459 U. S., at 468. It then concluded that the transfer to less amenable quarters for nonpunitive reasons was "ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence." Ibid. Examination of the possibility that the State had created a liberty interest by virtue of its prison regulations followed. Instead of looking to whether the State created an interest of "real substance" comparable to the good time credit scheme of Wolff, the Court asked whether the State had gone beyond issuing mere procedural guidelines and had used "language of an unmistakably mandatory character" such that the incursion on liberty would not occur "absent specified substantive predicates." Id., at 471-472. Finding such mandatory directives in the regulations before it, the Court decided that the State had created a protected liberty interest. It nevertheless, held, as it had in Greenholtz, that the full panoply of procedures conferred in Wolff were unnecessary to safeguard the inmates' interest and, if imposed, would undermine the prison's management objectives.

As this methodology took hold, no longer did inmates need to rely on a showing that they had suffered a "`grievous loss'" of liberty retained even after sentenced to terms of imprisonment. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972) (citation omitted). For the Court had ceased to examine the "nature" of the interest with respect to interests allegedly created by the State. See ibid.; Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 571 (1972). In a series of cases since Hewitt, the Court has wrestled with the language of intricate, often rather routine prison guidelines to determine whether mandatory language and substantive predicates created an enforceable expectation that the state would produce a particular outcome with respect to the prisoner's conditions of confinement.

In Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238 (1983), the claimants identified prison regulations that required a particular kind of hearing before the prison administrator could, in his discretion, effect an interstate transfer to another prison. Parsing the language of the regulation led the Court to hold that the discretionary nature of the transfer decision negated any state created liberty interest. Id., at 249-250. Kentucky Department of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454 (1989), dealt with regulations governing the visitation privileges of inmates. Asserting that a regulation created an absolute right to visitors absent a finding of certain substantive predicates, the inmates sought review of the adequacy of the procedures. As in Wakinekona, the Court determined the regulation left visitor exclusion to the discretion of the officials, and refused to elevate such expectations to the level of a liberty interest. 490 U. S., at 464-465.

By shifting the focus of the liberty interest inquiry to one based on the language of a particular regulation, and not the nature of the deprivation, the Court encouraged prisoners to comb regulations in search of mandatory language on which to base entitlements to various state conferred privileges. Courts have, in response, and not altogether illogically, drawn negative inferences from mandatory language in the text of prison regulations. The Court of Appeals' approach in this case is typical: it inferred from the mandatory directive that a finding of guilt "shall" be imposed under certain conditions the conclusion that the absence of such conditions prevents a finding of guilt.

Such a conclusion may be entirely sensible in the ordinary task of construing a statute defining rights and remedies available to the general public. It is a good deal less sensible in the case of a prison regulation primarily designed to guide correctional officials in the administration of a prison. Not only are such regulations not designed to confer rights on inmates, but the result of the negative implication jurisprudence is not to require the prison officials to follow the negative implication drawn from the regulation, but is instead to attach procedural protections that may be of quite a different nature. Here, for example, the Court of Appeals did not hold that a finding of guilt could not be made in the absence of substantial evidence. Instead, it held that the "liberty interest" created by the regulation entitled the inmate to the procedural protections set forth in Wolff.

Hewitt has produced at least two undesirable effects. First, it creates disincentives for States to codify prison management procedures in the interest of uniform treatment. Prison administrators need be concerned with the safety of the staff and inmate population. Ensuring that welfare often leads prison administrators to curb the discretion of staff on the front line who daily encounter prisoners hostile to the authoritarian structure of the prison environment. Such guidelines are not set forth solely to benefit the prisoner. They also aspire to instruct subordinate employees how to exercise discretion vested by the State in the warden, and to confine the authority of prison personnel in order to avoid widely different treatment of similar incidents. The approach embraced by Hewitt discourages this desirable development: States may avoid creation of "liberty" interests by having scarcely any regulations, or by conferring standardless discretion on correctional personnel.

Second, the Hewitt approach has led to the involvement of federal courts in the day to day management of prisons, often squandering judicial resources with little offsetting benefit to anyone. In so doing, it has run counter to the view expressed in several of our cases that federal courts ought to afford appropriate deference and flexibility to state officials trying to manage a volatile environment. Wolff, 418 U. S., at 561-563; Hewitt, 459 U. S., at 470-471; Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners Labor Union, 433 U.S. 119, 125 (1977). Such flexibility is especially warranted in the fine tuning of the ordinary incidents of prison life, a common subject of prisoner claims since Hewitt. See, e.g., Klos v. Haskell, No. 93-2666, 1995 U. S. App. LEXIS 2739 (CA2 Feb. 10, 1995) (claiming liberty interest in right to participate in "shock program"--a type of boot camp for inmates); Segal v. Biller, No. 94-35448, 1994 U. S. App. LEXIS 30628 (CA9 Oct. 31, 1994) (claiming liberty interest in a waiver of the travel limit imposed on prison furloughs); Burgin v. Nix, 899 F. 2d 733, 735 (CA8 1990) (claiming liberty interest in receiving a tray lunch rather than a sack lunch); Spruytte v. Walters, 753 F. 2d 498, 506-508 (CA6 1985) (finding liberty interest in receiving a paperback dictionary due to a rule that states a prisoner "`may receive any book . . . which does not present a threat to the order or security of the institution'") (citation omitted); Lyon v. Farrier, 727 F. 2d 766, 768-769 (CA8 1984) (claiming liberty interest in freedom from transfer to a smaller cell without electrical outlets for televisions and liberty interest in a prison job); United States v. Michigan, 680 F. Supp. 270, 277 (WD Mich. 1988) (finding liberty interest in not being placed on food loaf diet).

In light of the above discussion, we believe that the search for a negative implication from mandatory language in prisoner regulations has strayed from the real concerns undergirding the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause. The time has come to return to the due process principles we believe were correctly established and applied in Wolff and Meachum. [n.5] Following Wolff, we recognize that States may under certain circumstances create liberty interests which are protected by the Due Process Clause. See also Board of Pardons v. Allen, 482 U.S. 369 (1987). But these interests will be generally limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, see, e.g., Vitek, 445 U. S., at 493 (transfer to mental hospital), and Washington, 494 U. S., at 221-222 (involuntary administration of psychotropic drugs), nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.

Conner asserts, incorrectly, that any state action taken for a punitive reason encroaches upon a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause even in the absence of any state regulation. Neither Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979), nor Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977), requires such a rule. Bell dealt with the interests of pretrial detainees and not convicted prisoners. See also United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 747 (1987) (distinguishing between "impermissible punishment" and "permissible regulation" of pretrial detainees). The Court in Bell correctly noted that a detainee "may not be punished prior to an adjudication of guilt in accordance with due process of law." 441U. S., at 535. The Court expressed concern that a State would attempt to punish a detainee for the crime for which he was indicted via preconviction holding conditions. Id., at 539. Such a course would improperly extend the legitimate reasons for which such persons are detained--to ensure their presence at trial. [n.6]

The same distinction applies to Ingraham, which addressed the rights of schoolchildren to remain free from arbitrary corporal punishment. The Court noted that the Due Process Clause historically encompassed the notion that the state could not "physically punish an individual except in accordance with due process of law" and so found schoolchildren sheltered. 430 U. S., at 674. Although children sent to public school are lawfully confined to the classroom, arbitrary corporal punishment represents an invasion of personal security to which their parents do not consent when entrusting the educational mission to the State.

The punishment of incarcerated prisoners, on the other hand, serves different aims than those found invalid in Bell and Ingraham. The process does not impose retribution in lieu of a valid conviction, nor does it maintain physical control over free citizens forced by law to subject themselves to state control over the educational mission. It effectuates prison management and prisoner rehabilitative goals. See State v. Alvey, 67 Haw. 49, 55, 678 P. 2d 5, 9 (1984). Admittedly, prisoners do not shed all constitutional rights at the prison gate, Wolff, 418 U. S., at 555, but "`[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system.'" Jones, 433 U. S., at 125, quoting Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 285 (1948). Discipline by prison officials in response to a wide range of misconduct falls within the expected parameters of the sentence imposed by a court of law.

This case, though concededly punitive, does not present a dramatic departure from the basic conditions of Conner's indeterminate sentence. Although Conner points to dicta in cases implying that solitary confinement automatically triggers due process protection, Wolff, supra, at 571, n. 19; Baxter v. Palmigliano, 425 U.S. 308, 323 (1976) (assuming without deciding that freedom from punitive segregation for " `serious misconduct' " implicates a liberty interest, holding only that the prisoner has no right to counsel) (citation omitted), this Court has not had the opportunity to address in an argued case the question whether disciplinary confinement of inmates itself implicates constitutional liberty interests. We hold that Conner's discipline in segregated confinement did not present the type of atypical, significant deprivation in which a state might conceivably create a liberty interest. The record shows that, at the time of Conner's punishment, disciplinary segregation, with insignificant exceptions, mirrored those conditions imposed upon inmates in administrative segregation and protective custody. [n.7] We note also that the State expunged Conner's disciplinary record with respect to the "high misconduct" charge 9 months after Conner served time in segregation. Thus, Conner's confinement did not exceed similar, but totally discretionary confinement in either duration or degree of restriction. Indeed, the conditions at Halawa involve significant amounts of "lockdown time" even for inmates in the general population. [n.8] Based on a comparison between inmates inside and outside disciplinary segregation, the State's actions in placing him there for 30 days did not work a major disruption in his environment. [n.9]

Nor does Conner's situation present a case where the State's action will inevitably affect the duration of his sentence. Nothing in Hawaii's code requires the parole board to deny parole in the face of a misconduct record or to grant parole in its absence, Haw. Rev. Stat. §§353-68, 353-69 (1985), even though misconduct is by regulation a relevant consideration. Haw. Admin. Rule §23-700-33(b) (effective Aug. 1992). The decision to release a prisoner rests on a myriad of considerations. And, the prisoner is afforded procedural protection at his parole hearing in order to explain the circumstances behind his misconduct record. Haw. Admin. Rule §§23-700-31(a); 23-700-35(c); 23-700-36 (1983). The chance that a finding of misconduct will alter the balance is simply too attenuated to invoke the procedural guarantees of the Due Process Clause. The Court rejected a similar claim in Meachum. 427 U. S., at 229, n. 8 (declining to afford relief on the basis that petitioner's transfer record might affect his future confinement and possibility of parole). [n.10]

We hold, therefore, that neither the Hawaii prison regulation in question, nor the Due Process Clause itself, afforded Conner a protected liberty interest that would entitle him to the procedural protections set forth in Wolff. The regime to which he was subjected as a result of the misconduct hearing was within the range of confinement to be normally expected for one serving an indeterminate term of 30 years to life. [n.11]

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is accordingly



1 Hawaii's prison regulations establish a hierarchy of misconduct ranging from "greatest misconduct," Haw. Admin. Rule §17-201-6(a) (1983), to "minor misconduct," id., §17-201-10. Section 17-201-7 enumerates offenses punishable as "high misconduct" and sets available punishment for such offenses at disciplinary segregation up to 30 days or any sanction other than disciplinary segregation. Section 17-201-9 lists offenses punishable as "low moderate misconduct" and sets punishment at disciplinary segregation up to four hours in cell, monetary restitution, or any sanction other than disciplinary segregation. In addition to the levels of misconduct which classify various misdeeds, the regulations also define "serious misconduct" as "that which poses a serious threat to the safety, security, or welfare of the staff, other inmates or wards, or the institution and subjects the individual to the imposition of serious penalties such as segregation for longer than four hours." Id., §17-201-12. Such misconduct is punished through adjustment committee procedures. Ibid. The parties apparently concede that the physical obstruction allegation constituted serious misconduct, but that the low moderate misconduct charges did not.

2 The Special Holding Unit (SHU) houses inmates placed in disciplinary segregation, id., §17-201-19(c), administrative segregation, id., §17-201-22, and protective custody, id., §17-201-23. Single person cells comprise the SHU and conditions are substantially similar for each of the three classifications of inmates housed there. Compare Exh. 60, 1 App. 142-155, with Exh. 61, 1 App. 156-168. With the exception of one extra phone call and one extra visiting privilege, inmates segregated for administrative reasons receive the same privilege revocations as those segregated for disciplinary reasons.

3 The full text of the regulation reads as follows:

"Upon completion of the hearing, the committee may take the matter under advisement and render a decision based upon evidence

presented at the hearing to which the individual had an opportunity to respond or any cumulative evidence which may subsequently come to light may be used as a permissible inference of guilt, although disciplinary action shall be based upon more than mere silence. A finding of guilt shall be made where:

%(1) The inmate or ward admits the violation or pleads guilty.

%(2) The charge is supported by substantial evidence."

Haw. Admin. Rule §17-201-18(b)(2) (1983) (emphasis added).

4 Later cases, such as Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480 (1980), found that the Due Process Clause itself confers a liberty interest in certain situations. In Vitek, a prisoner was to be transferred involuntarily to a state mental hospital for treatment of a mental disease or defect; the Court held that his right to be free from such transfer was a liberty interest irrespective of state regulation; it was "qualitatively different" from the punishment characteristically suffered by a person convicted of crime, and had "stigmatizing consequences." Id., at 493-494. Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 221-222 (1990), likewise concluded that, independent of any state regulation, an inmate had a liberty interest in being protected from the involuntary administration of psychotropic drugs.

5 Such abandonment of Hewitt's methodology does not technically require us to overrule any holding of this Court. The Court in Wakinekona and Thompson concluded no liberty interest was at stake. Although it did locate a liberty interest in Hewitt, it concluded that due process required no additional procedural guarantees for the inmate. As such, its answer to the anterior question of whether the inmate possessed a liberty interest at all was unnecessary to the disposition of the case. Our decision today only abandons an approach that in practice is difficult to administer and which produces anomalous results.

6 Similar concerns drove the conclusion in Kennedy v. Mendoza Martinez, 372 U.S. 144 (1963), holding that free citizens must receive procedural protections prior to revocation of citizenship for draft evasion. Without discussing "liberty interests," the Court recognized that deprivation of the "most precious right" of citizenship necessitated process by way of jury trial under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Id., at 159. As in Bell, the Court feared the government would enforce the criminal law punishing draft evasion through the back door of denaturalization without prosecution for said crimes. 372 U. S., at 186.

7 Hawaii has repealed the regulations describing the structure of inmate privileges in the Special Holding Unit when confined in administrative segregation, Brief for Petitioner 6, n. 3, but it retains inmate classification category "Maximum Custody I" in which inmate privileges are comparably limited. App. to Brief for Petitioner 48a 71a.

8 General population inmates are confined to cells for anywhere between 12 and 16 hours a day, depending on their classification. 1 App. 126.

9 The State notes, ironically, that Conner requested that he be placed in protective custody after he had been released from disciplinary segregation. Id., at 43. Conner's own expectations have at times reflected a personal preference for the quietude of the Special Holding Unit. Although we do not think a prisoner's subjective expectations dispositive of the liberty interest analysis, it does provide some evidence that the conditions suffered were expected within the contour of the actual sentence imposed.

10 Again, we note that Hawaii expunged Conner's record with respect to the "high misconduct" charge, so he personally has no chance of receiving a delayed release from the parole board as a direct result of that allegation.

11 Prisoners such as Conner, of course, retain other protection from arbitrary state action even within the expected conditions of confinement. They may invoke the First and Eighth Amendments and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment where appropriate, and may draw upon internal prison grievance procedures and state judicial review where available.