Thornburgh v. Abbott

Decision Date15 May 1989
Docket NumberNo. 87-1344,87-1344
Citation109 S.Ct. 1874,490 U.S. 401,104 L.Ed.2d 459
PartiesRichard L. THORNBURGH, Attorney General of the United States, et al., Petitioners v. Jack ABBOTT, et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Federal Bureau of Prisons regulations generally permit prisoners to receive publications from the "outside," but authorize wardens, pursuant to specified criteria, to reject an incoming publication if it is found "to be detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity." Wardens may not reject a publication "solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social[,] sexual, or . . . unpopular or repugnant," or establish an excluded list of publications, but must review each issue of a subscription separately. Respondents, a class of inmates and certain publishers, filed suit in the District Court, claiming that the regulations, both on their face and as applied to 46 specifically excluded publications, violated their First Amendment rights under the standard set forth in Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 40 L.Ed.2d 224. The District Court refrained from adopting the Martinez standard in favor of an approach more deferential to the judgment of prison authorities, and upheld the regulations without addressing the propriety of the 46 exclusions. The Court of Appeals, however, utilized the Martinez standard, found the regulations wanting, and remanded the case for an individualized determinat on on the constitutionality of the 46 exclusions.

Held:

1. Regulations such as those at issue that affect the sending of publications to prisoners must be analyzed under the standard set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 2262, 96 L.Ed.2d 64, and are therefore "valid if [they are] reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Prison officials are due considerable deference in regulating the delicate balance between prison order and security and the legitimate demands of "outsiders" who seek to enter the prison environment. The less deferential standard of Martinez—whereby prison regulations authorizing mail censorship must be "generally necessary" to protect one or more legitimate governmental interests—is limited to regulations concerning outgoing personal correspondence from prisoners, regulations which are not centrally concerned with the maintenance of prison order and security. Moreover, Martinez is overruled to the extent that it might support the drawing of a categorical distinction between incoming correspondence from prisoners (to which Turner applied its reasonableness standard) and incoming correspondence from nonprisoners. Pp. 407-414.

2. The regulations at issue are facially valid under the Turner standard. Their underlying objective of protecting prison security is undoubtedly legitimate and is neutral with regard to the content of the expression regulated. Also, the broad discretion the regulations accord wardens is rationally related to security interests. Furthermore, alternative means of expression remain open to the inmates, since the regulations permit a broad range of publications to be sent, received, and read, even though specific publications are prohibited. Moreover, respondents have established no alternative to the regulations that would accommodate prisoners' constitutional rights at a de minimis cost to valid penological interests. Pp. 414-419.

3. The case is remanded for an examination of the validity of the regulations as applied to any of the 46 publications introduced at trial as to which there remains a live controversy. P. 419.

263 U.S.App.D.C. 186, 824 F.2d 1166, vacated and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. ----.

William C. Bryson, Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

Steven Ney, Silver Spring, Md., for respondents.

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

I

Regulations promulgated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons broadly permit federal prisoners to receive publications from the "outside," but authorize prison officials to reject incoming publications found to be detrimental to institutional security.1 For 15 years, respondents, a class of inmates and certain publishers, have claimed that these regulations violate their First Amendment rights under the standard of review enunciated in Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 40 L.Ed.2d 224 (1974).2 They mount a facial challenge to the regulations as well as a challenge to the regulations as applied to 46 specific publications excluded by the Bureau.

After a 10-day bench trial, the District Court refrained from adopting the Martinez standard. Instead, it favored an approach more deferential to the judgment of prison authorities and upheld the regulations without addressing the propriety of the 46 specific exclusions. App. to Pet. for Cert. 26a, 43a-47a. The Court of Appeals, on the other hand, utilized the Martinez standard, found the regulations wanting and remanded the case to the District Court for an individualized determination of the constitutionality of the 46 exclusions. Abbott v. Meese, 263 U.S.App.D.C. 186, 824 F.2d 1166 (1987).

Petitioners, officials of the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons, sought certiorari. We granted the writ in order to determine the appropriate standard of review. Meese v. Abbott, 485 U.S. 1020, 108 S.Ct. 1572, 99 L.Ed.2d 888 (1988).

We now hold that the District Court correctly anticipated that the proper inquiry in this case is whether the regulations are "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests," Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 2262, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987), and we conclude that under this standard the regulations are facially valid. We therefore disagree with the Court of Appeals on the issue of facial validity, but we agree with that court's remand of the case to the District Court for a determination of the validity of the regulations as applied to each of the 46 publications.

II

We are concerned primarily with the regulations set forth at 28 CFR §§ 540.70 and 540.71 (1988), first promulgated in 1979.3 These generally permit an inmate to subscribe to, or to receive, a publication without prior approval,4 but authorize the warden to reject a publication in certain circumstances. The warden may reject it "only if it is determined detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity." § 540.71(b). The warden, however, may not reject a publication "solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social or sexual, or because its content is unpopular or repugnant." Ibid. The regulations contain a nonexhaustive list of criteria which may support rejection of a publication.5 The warden is prohibited from establishing an excluded list of publications: each issue of a subscription publication is to be reviewed separately. § 540.71(c). The regulatory criteria for rejecting publications have been supplemented by Program Statement No. 5266.5, which provides further guidance on the subject of sexually explicit material.6 The regulations provide procedural safeguards for both the recipient and the sender. The warden may designate staff to screen and, where appropriate, to approve incoming publications, but only the warden may reject a publication. § 540.70(b). The warden must advise the inmate promptly in writing of the reasons for the rejection, § 540.71(d), and must provide the publisher or sender with a copy of the rejection letter, § 540.71(e). The notice must refer to "the specific article(s) or material(s) considered objectionable." § 540.71(d). The publisher or sender may obtain an independent review of the warden's rejection decision by a timely writing to the Regional Director of the Bureau. § 540.71(e). An inmate may appeal through the Bureau's Administrative Remedy Procedure. See §§ 542.10 to 542.16.7 The warden is instructed to permit the inmate to review the rejected material for the purpose of filing an appeal "unless such review may provide the inmate with information of a nature which is deemed to pose a threat or detriment to the security, good order or discipline of the institution or to encourage or instruct in criminal activity." § 540.71(d).8

III

There is little doubt that the kind of censorship just described would raise grave First Amendment concerns outside the prison context. It is equally certain that "[p]rison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution," Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S., at 84, 107 S.Ct., at 2259, nor do they bar free citizens from exercising their own constitutional rights by reaching out to those on the "inside," id., at 94-99, 107 S.Ct., at 2265; Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979); Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 97 S.Ct. 2532, 53 L.Ed.2d 629 (1977); Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 94 S.Ct. 2800, 41 L.Ed.2d 495 (1974). We have recognized, however, that these rights must be exercised with due regard for the "inordinately difficult undertaking" that is modern prison administration. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S., at 85, 107 S.Ct., at 2259.

In particular, we have been sensitive to the delicate balance that prison administrators must strike between the order and security of the internal prison environment and the legitimate demands of those on the "outside" who seek to enter that environment, in person or through the written word. Many categories of noninmates seek access to prisons. Access is essential to lawyers and legal assistants representing prisoner clients, see Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 94 S.Ct....

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