Turner v. Safley, 85-1384

Decision Date01 June 1987
Docket NumberNo. 85-1384,85-1384
Citation96 L.Ed.2d 64,107 S.Ct. 2254,482 U.S. 78
PartiesWilliam R. TURNER, et al., Petitioners v. Leonard SAFLEY, et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Respondent inmates brought a class action challenging two regulations promulgated by the Missouri Division of Corrections. The first permits correspondence between immediate family members who are inmates at different institutions within the Division's jurisdiction, and between inmates "concerning legal matters," but allows other inmate correspondence only if each inmate's classification/treatment team deems it in the best interests of the parties. The second regulation permits an inmate to marry only with the prison superintendent's permission, which can be given only when there are "compelling reasons" to do so. Testimony indicated that generally only a pregnancy or the birth of an illegitimate child would be considered "compelling." The Federal District Court found both regulations unconstitutional, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. The lower courts erred in ruling that Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 40 L.Ed.2d 224 (1974), and its progeny require the application of a strict scrutiny standard of review for resolving respondents' constitutional complaints. Rather, those cases indicate that a lesser standard is appropriate whereby inquiry is made into whether a prison regulation that impinges on inmates' constitutional rights is "reasonably related" to legitimate penological interests. In determining reasonableness, relevant factors include (a) whether there is a "valid, rational connection" between the regulation and a legitimate and neutral governmental interest put forward to justify it, which connection cannot be so remote as to render the regulation arbitrary or irrational; (b) whether there are alternative means of exercising the asserted constitutional right that remain open to inmates, which alternatives, if they exist, will require a measure of judicial deference to the corrections officials' expertise; (c) whether and the extent to which accommodation of the asserted right will have an impact on prison staff, on inmates' liberty, and on the allocation of limited prison resources, which impact, if substantial, will require particular deference to corrections officials; and (d) whether the regulation represents an "exaggerated response" to prison concerns, the existence of a ready alternative that fully accommodates the prisoner's rights at de minimis

costs to valid penological interests being evidence of unreasonableness. Pp. 84-91.

2. The Missouri inmate correspondence regulation is, on the record here, reasonable and facially valid. The regulation is logically related to the legitimate security concerns of prison officials, who testified that mail between prisons can be used to communicate escape plans, to arrange violent acts, and to foster prison gang activity. Moreover, the regulation does not deprive prisoners of all means of expression, but simply bars communication with a limited class of people—other inmates—with whom authorities have particular cause to be concerned. The regulation is entitled to deference on the basis of the significant impact of prison correspondence on the liberty and safety of other prisoners and prison personnel, in light of officials' testimony that such correspondence facilitates the development of informal organizations that threaten safety and security at penal institutions. Nor is there an obvious, easy alternative to the regulation, since monitoring inmate correspondence clearly would impose more than a de minimis cost in terms of the burden on staff resources required to conduct item-by-item censorship, and would create an appreciable risk of missing dangerous communications. The regulation is content neutral and does not unconstitutionally abridge the First Amendment rights of prison inmates. Pp. 91-93.

3. The constitutional right of prisoners to marry is impermissibly burdened by the Missouri marriage regulation. Pp. 94-99.

(a) Prisoners have a constitutionally protected right to marry under Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 98 S.Ct. 673, 54 L.Ed.2d 618 (1978). Although such a marriage is subject to substantial restrictions as a result of incarceration, sufficient important attributes of marriage remain to form a constitutionally protected relationship. Butler v. Wilson, 415 U.S. 953, 94 S.Ct. 1479, 39 L.Ed.2d 569 (1974), distinguished. Pp. 94-96.

(b) The regulation is facially invalid under the reasonable relationship test. Although prison officials may regulate the time and circumstances under which a marriage takes place, and may require prior approval by the warden, the almost complete ban on marriages here is not, on the record, reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives. The contention that the regulation serves security concerns by preventing "love triangles" that may lead to violent inmate confrontations is without merit, since inmate rivalries are likely to develop with or without a formal marriage ceremony. Moreover, the regulation's broad prohibition is not justified by the security of fellow inmates and prison staff, who are not affected where the inmate makes the private decision to marry a civilian. Rather, the regulation represents an exaggerated response to the claimed security objectives, since allowing marriages unless the warden finds a threat to security, order, or the public safety represents

an obvious, easy alternative that would accommodate the right to marry while imposing a de minimis burden. Nor is the regulation reasonably related to the articulated rehabilitation goal of fostering self-reliance by female prisoners. In requiring refusal of permission to marry to all inmates absent a compelling reason, the regulation sweeps much more broadly than is necessary, in light of officials' testimony that male inmates' marriages had generally caused them no problems and that they had no objections to prisoners marrying civilians. Pp. 96-99.

777 F.2d 1307 (CA8 1985), affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and SCALIA, JJ., joined, and in Part III-B of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 100.

Henry Thomas Herschel, Jefferson City, Mo., for petitioners.

Floyd R. Finch, Jr., Kansas City, Mo., for respondents.

Justice O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to determine the constitutionality of regulations promulgated by the Missouri Division of Corrections relating to inmate marriages and inmate-to-inmate correspondence. The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, applying a strict scrutiny analysis, concluded that the regulations violate respondents' constitutional rights. We hold that a lesser standard of scrutiny is appropriate in determining the constitutionality of the prison rules. Applying that standard, we uphold the validity of the correspondence regulation, but we conclude that the marriage restriction cannot be sustained.


Respondents brought this class action for injunctive relief and damages in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. The regulations challenged in the complaint were in effect at all prisons within the jurisdiction of the Missouri Division of Corrections. This litigation focused, however, on practices at the Renz Correctional Institution (Renz), located in Cedar City, Missouri. The Renz prison population includes both male and female prisoners of varying security levels. Most of the female prisoners at Renz are classified as medium or maximum security inmates, while most of the male prisoners are classified as minimum security offenders. Renz is used on occasion to provide protective custody for inmates from other prisons in the Missouri system. The facility originally was built as a minimum security prison farm, and it still has a minimum security perimeter without guard towers or walls.

Two regulations are at issue here. The first of the challenged regulations relates to correspondence between inmates at different institutions. It permits such correspondence "with immediate family members who are inmates in other correctional institutions," and it permits correspondence between inmates "concerning legal matters." Other correspondence between inmates, however, is permitted only

if "the classification/treatment team of each inmate deems it in the best interest of the parties involved." App. 34. Trial testimony indicated that as a matter of practice, the determination whether to permit inmates to correspond was based on team members' familiarity with the progress reports, conduct violations, and psychological reports in the inmates' files rather than on individual review of each piece of mail. See 777 F.2d 1307, 1308 (CA8 1985). At Renz, the District Court found that the rule "as practiced is that inmates may not write non-family inmates." 586 F.Supp. 589, 591 (WD Mo.1984).

The challenged marriage regulation, which was promulgated while this litigation was pending, permits an inmate to marry only with the permission of the superintendent of the prison, and provides that such approval should be given only "when there are compelling reasons to do so." App. 47. The term "compelling" is not defined, but prison officials testified at trial that generally only a pregnancy or the birth of an illegitimate child would be considered a compelling reason. See 586 F.Supp., at 592. Prior to the promulgation of this rule, the applicable regulation did not obligate Missouri Division of Corrections officials to assist an inmate who wanted to get married, but it also did not specifically authorize the superintendent of an institution to prohibit inmates from getting married. Ibid.


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