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Bell v. Wolfish

Supreme Court of the United States

January 16, 1979, Argued ; May 14, 1979, Decided

No. 77-1829


 [*523]  [***458]  [**1865]    MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Over the past five Terms, this Court has in several decisions considered constitutional challenges [****8]  to prison conditions or practices by convicted prisoners. 2 This case requires us to examine the constitutional rights of pretrial detainees -- those persons who have been charged with a crime but who have not yet been tried on the charge. The parties concede that to ensure their presence at trial, these persons legitimately may be incarcerated by the Government  [**1866]  prior to a determination of their guilt or innocence, infra, at 533-535, and n. 15; see 18 U. S. C. §§ 3146, 3148, and it is the scope of their rights during this period of confinement prior to trial that is the primary focus of this case.

 [****9]  This lawsuit was brought as a class action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to challenge numerous conditions of confinement and practices at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a federally operated short-term custodial facility in New York City designed primarily to house pretrial detainees. The District Court, in the words of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, "intervened broadly into almost every facet of the institution" and enjoined no fewer than 20 MCC practices on constitutional and statutory grounds.  The Court of Appeals largely affirmed the District Court's constitutional rulings and in the process held that under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, pretrial detainees may "be subjected to only those 'restrictions and privations'  [***459]  which 'inhere in their confinement itself or which are justified by  [*524]  compelling necessities of jail administration.'" Wolfish v. Levi, 573 F.2d 118, 124 (1978), quoting Rhem v. Malcolm, 507 F.2d 333, 336 (CA2 1974). We granted certiorari to consider the important constitutional questions raised by these decisions [****10]  and to resolve an apparent conflict among the Circuits. 3 439 U.S. 816 (1978). We now reverse.

The MCC was constructed in 1975 to replace the converted waterfront garage on West Street that had served as New York City's federal jail since 1928. It is located adjacent to the Foley Square federal courthouse and has as its primary objective the housing of persons who are being detained in custody prior to trial for federal [****11]  criminal offenses in the United States District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and for the District of New Jersey. ] Under the Bail Reform Act, 18 U. S. C. § 3146, a person in the federal system is committed to a detention facility only because no other less drastic means can reasonably ensure his presence at trial. In addition to pretrial detainees, the MCC also houses some convicted inmates who are awaiting sentencing or transportation to federal prison or who are serving generally relatively short sentences in a service capacity at the MCC, convicted prisoners who have been lodged at the facility under writs of habeas corpus ad prosequendum or ad testificandum issued to ensure their presence at upcoming trials, witnesses in protective custody, and persons incarcerated for contempt. 4

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441 U.S. 520 *; 99 S. Ct. 1861 **; 60 L. Ed. 2d 447 ***; 1979 U.S. LEXIS 100 ****



Disposition:  573 F.2d 118, reversed and remanded.


inmates, detainees, pretrial detainee, restrictions, searches, rights, conditions, confinement, rooms, courts, detention, jail, deprivation, practices, packages, convicted, cases, prison, punish, contraband, punitive, privacy, bail, double-bunking, Corrections, inspection, pretrial detention, incarceration, sentenced, inflicted

Criminal Law & Procedure, Obstruction of Administration of Justice, Bail Jumping & Failure to Appear, Penalties, Preliminary Proceedings, Bail, General Overview, Release Pending Appeal & Sentencing, Jury Instructions, Particular Instructions, Presumption of Innocence, Trials, Burdens of Proof, Prosecution, Constitutional Law, Substantive Due Process, Scope, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Scope of Protection, Bill of Rights, Cruel & Unusual Punishment, Sentencing, Release on Own Recognizance, Risk of Flight, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Prisoner Rights, Postconviction Proceedings, Imprisonment, Fundamental Freedoms, Search & Seizure, Search & Seizure