777 F.2d 1307 (8th Cir. 1985), 84-1827, Safley v. Turner

Docket Nº:84-1827, 84-2337.
Citation:777 F.2d 1307
Party Name:Leonard SAFLEY, et al., Appellees, v. William R. TURNER; Kathy Crocker; Earl Engelbrecht; Betty Bowen; Bernice E. Trickey; Howard Wilkins; James Purkett; William F. Yeager; Larry Trickey, Appellants. Leonard SAFLEY, et al., Appellees, v. David W. BLACKWELL; Lee Roy Black; Donald Wyrick; Betty Bowen; Earl Engelbrecht, Appellants.
Case Date:November 19, 1985
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 1307

777 F.2d 1307 (8th Cir. 1985)

Leonard SAFLEY, et al., Appellees,


William R. TURNER; Kathy Crocker; Earl Engelbrecht; Betty

Bowen; Bernice E. Trickey; Howard Wilkins;

James Purkett; William F. Yeager;

Larry Trickey, Appellants.

Leonard SAFLEY, et al., Appellees,


David W. BLACKWELL; Lee Roy Black; Donald Wyrick; Betty

Bowen; Earl Engelbrecht, Appellants.

Nos. 84-1827, 84-2337.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 19, 1985

Submitted June 13, 1985.

Henry Herschel, Columbia, Mo., for appellants.

Cecelia G. Baty, Kansas City, Mo., for appellees.

Before ROSS, Circuit Judge, BRIGHT, Senior Circuit Judge, and NICHOL, [*] Senior District Judge.

Page 1308

NICHOL, Senior District Judge.

This is an appeal from a class action in which the district court 1 declared unconstitutional certain regulations of the Missouri prison system. For reversal, appellants argue that the district court applied the incorrect legal standard in determining the constitutionality of the prison rules, and that the district court's findings of fact were clearly erroneous. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.


The challenged regulations were in effect at all institutions within the Missouri Division of Corrections. However, the focus of inquiry at trial was the Renz Correctional Institution (Renz). Renz was originally designed as a minimum security prison farm employing male inmate labor. As such, it has a minimum security perimeter without the usual maximum security elements such as guard towers and walls. Since the late 1970s, Renz has become what is known as a "complex prison"--that is, its population consists of both male and female inmates and inmates of varying security levels. Most of the female inmates at Renz are medium and maximum security level offenders, while most of the male inmates are classified as minimum security.

Two regulations are at issue in this appeal. The first dealt with mail between inmates in different institutions within the state, and was set out in Division of Corrections regulation 20-118.010(1)(e):

Correspondence with immediate family members who are inmates in other correctional institutions will be permitted. Such correspondence may be permitted between non-family members if the classification/treatment team of each inmate deems it in the best interest of the parties involved. Correspondence between inmates in all division institutions will be permitted concerning legal matters.

The challenged portion of the rule was that part permitting mail between non-family members only at the discretion of the classification/treatment team of each inmate involved. 2 The team used psychological reports, conduct violations, and progress reports contained in each inmate's file to decide whether to permit correspondence. The testimony indicated that these materials were not actually consulted on each occasion since the team was familiar with the classification files of most of the inmates. Thus, inmate-to-inmate correspondence was controlled by prior approval or disapproval of particular inmates rather than individual review of each piece of mail.

The district court found in Finding of Fact number 5 that

[t]here have been instances where the divisional correspondence regulation has been violated. For example:

  1. Letters have been stopped without notice or explanation to either the correspondent or the recipient; 3

  2. Mail to and from persons not incarcerated has been stopped or refused on factually incorrect grounds or without legitimate justification; 4

  3. Mail to incarcerated family members has been refused or returned without notification or explanation; 5

    Page 1309

  4. Mail with former inmates has been refused or returned without notification or explanation. 6

    Safley v. Turner, 586 F.Supp. 589, 591 (W.D.Mo.1984). Moreover, "the rule as practiced [at Renz] is that inmates may not write non-family inmates." Id. This practice was set forth in the Renz Inmate Orientation Booklet presented to each inmate upon arrival at Renz. The district court found that correspondence had been denied between married inmates, and between inmates who desired to maintain a friendship. An unwritten rule at Renz required prior approval of inmate-to-inmate legal mail; absent such approval, this mail was routinely opened, stopped and refused despite the divisional regulation stating that such mail "will be permitted." The reasons given for these practices include interception of plans for escape, heading off riots and other disturbances, and controlling the formation and activities of inmate gangs. These matters are of special concern at Renz because of the minimum security perimeter.

    The second rule at issue in this appeal involved inmate marriages. Prior to December of 1983, the Missouri prison system operated under divisional regulation 20-117.050, which set out the procedure to be followed when an inmate wished to marry. As the district court noted, this regulation "(a) did not obligate the Missouri Division of Correction to assist an inmate who wanted to get married, but (b) did not authorize the superintendents of the various institutions to prohibit inmates from getting married. Inmates at Renz were, however, frequently denied permission to be married." Safley, 586 F.Supp. at 592. On December 1, 1983, after this lawsuit was filed, a new inmate marriage regulation was promulgated providing that "[t]he superintendent may approve the marriage of an inmate when requested when there are compelling reasons to do so." Appellants' Brief, App. E. The burden was on the inmate to provide a compelling reason for the marriage. The term "compelling" was not defined in the regulation. At trial, however, testimony of prison officials indicated that only a pregnancy or the birth of an illegitimate child would be considered compelling reasons.

    The district court found that the marriage restrictions were imposed largely on female inmates at Renz and at the Chillicothe Correctional Center for Women, and that the restrictions were motivated primarily by protective attitudes. Apparently many of the female inmates who were denied permission to marry had come from situations involving domestic abuse. Renz's Superintendent Turner believed "that women prisoners whose crimes were connected to abuse that they had suffered ... needed to concentrate on developing skills of self-reliance." Appellants' Brief at 30. Turner believed it to be in the best rehabilitative interests of the inmates to avoid any personal relationship with another inmate. Security interests were also cited. Appellants contend that "the friction that is caused as a result of a 'love triangle' and the maintenance of 'wholesome' inmate friendships is the basis for a large amount of violence within the prison system." Id. at 47-48.

    The district court, relying on Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 40 L.Ed.2d 224 (1974), applied a traditional strict scrutiny standard. The court held the marriage rule to be an unconstitutional infringement upon the fundamental right to marry because it was far more restrictive than was either reasonable or essential for the protection of the state's interests in security and rehabilitation. Safley, 586 F.Supp. at 594. Likewise, the mail rule was unnecessarily broad, thus constituting a violation of the inmates' First Amendment rights. Id. at 596. The district court also held that the correspondence regulations had been applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner.


    Appellants argue that, because of the plaintiffs' status as prisoners, the district court should have applied a rational basis

    Page 1310

    or reasonableness test rather than strict scrutiny in determining the constitutionality of the restriction on inmate-to-inmate correspondence. The issue is one of first impression in this circuit; in fact, we have found only one other decision addressing the precise question of mail between inmates of different institutions. See Schlobohm v. U.S. Attorney General, 479 F.Supp. 401 (M.D.Pa.1979) (applying strict scrutiny and finding the regulation constitutional). A series of Supreme Court cases, however, as well as a number of our own past decisions concerning First Amendment rights of prisoners may provide guidance.

    We begin with the observation that, traditionally, a direct governmental prohibition of the right to free speech is permissible only if the restriction furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive alternative for achieving that purpose. United States v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171, 103 S.Ct. 1702, 1707, 75 L.Ed.2d 736 (1983); Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association, 460 U.S. 37, 103 S.Ct. 948, 955, 74 L.Ed.2d 794 (1983). Restrictions on the First Amendment rights of prisoners, however, have presented special problems. "[C]ourts are ill equipped to deal with the increasingly urgent problems of prison administration and reform." Martinez, 416 U.S. at 405, 94 S.Ct. at 1807. Yet the duty of the federal courts to protect fundamental constitutional guarantees, even in state penal institutions, remains intact. Id. Hence, courts have struggled to discern the faint line between appropriate deference to prison administrators, on the one hand, and discharge of the judicial duty, on the other.

    In Martinez, the Supreme Court considered a prisoner mail censorship regulation which proscribed certain forms of expression in inmate correspondence. 7 The Court determined that, because the regulation applied to mail to and from non-inmates as well as inmates, the case did not require an assessment of the extent to which prisoners may claim First Amendment freedoms but instead could be decided on the basis of incidental...

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