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Law School Case Brief

Beard v. Banks - 548 U.S. 521

Rule:

Imprisonment does not automatically deprive a prisoner of certain important constitutional protections, including those of the First Amendment. But at the same time the Constitution sometimes permits greater restriction of such rights in a prison than it would allow elsewhere. Courts owe substantial deference to the professional judgment of prison administrators. Restrictive prison regulations are permissible if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and are not an exaggerated response to such objectives. Four factors are relevant in determining the reasonableness of a regulation. First, is there a valid, rational connection between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it? Second, are there alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates? Third, what impact will accommodation of the asserted constitutional right have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally? And, fourth, are ready alternatives for furthering the governmental interest available?

Facts:

Plaintiff prisoner brought a class action suit against defendant, claiming that a prison regulation violated the First Amendment. The regulation prohibited inmates housed in the most restrictive level (level 2) of Pennsylvania's long term segregation unit (LTSU) from having access to newspapers, magazines, and personal photographs. Inmates were housed in level 2 of the LTSU based on assaults, possession of weapons or implements of escape, being a sexual predator, or other violent or disruptive behavior. Inmates who progressed to LTSU level 1 were given some access to newspapers and magazines. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants and the ruling was reversed on appeal. Defendants sought further review.

Issue:

Does the prison regulation prohibiting access to newspapers, magazines and personal photographs violate the First Amendment rights of some inmates?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court ruled that there was sufficient justification for the regulation upon showing that the regulation was necessary in order to motivate better behavior on the part of particularly difficult inmates who had already been deprived of almost all privileges. The prisoner failed to offer any specific facts to refute the Secretary's summary judgment evidence and had instead filed a cross-motion for summary judgment claiming that the regulation was unreasonable as a matter of law.

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