Federal Prisoner Ensign Amendment Challenge

In Ramirez v. Pugh, 379 F.3d 122 (3d Cir. 2004), another federal prisoner challenged the Ensign Amendment and its implementing regulations in federal district court. The district court granted a motion to dismiss filed by the government, concluding that there was a rational connection between the ban on material that is "sexually explicit or features nudity" and prisoner rehabilitation. The inmate appealed to the Third Circuit, which reversed and remanded. The Third Circuit recognized that the D.C. Circuit had rejected a similar challenge in Amatel v. Reno, 332 U.S. App. D.C. 191, 156 F.3d 192 (D.C. Cir., 1998), holding that common sense revealed a rational link between the ban and rehabilitation. However, the Third Circuit did not see the obviousness of the connection using common sense. Following Wolf, the Third Circuit required the government to place some evidence in the record to establish the connection between the ban and rehabilitation. The Third Circuit also disagreed with the D.C. Circuit to the extent that the court, without any evidence, defined the goal of rehabilitation as character growth. Certainly falling within the legitimate bounds of the interest [in rehabilitation] are prison policies designed to target the specific behavioral patterns that led to a prisoner's incarceration in the first place, or behavioral patterns emerging during incarceration that present a threat of lawbreaking activity other than that for which the prisoner was confined. To say, however, that rehabilitation legitimately includes the promotion of "values," broadly defined, with no particularized identification of an existing harm towards which the rehabilitative efforts are addressed, would essentially be to acknowledge that prisoners' First Amendment rights are subject to the pleasure of their custodians. Ramirez, 379 F.3d at 128.