Inmate Mail and Marriage Rights - Prison Regulations Challenge
In Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 96 L. Ed. 2d 64, 107 S. Ct. 2254 (1987), the United States Supreme Court reviewed a challenge to two prison regulations.
One limited correspondence between inmates at different institutions, while the other prohibited inmates from marrying absent the prison superintendent's permission. 482 U.S. at 81-82.
In examining the regulations, the Court articulated the proper standard for assessing the constitutionality of a prison regulation that allegedly violates an inmate's rights.
Declining to engage in a strict-scrutiny analysis, the Court stated that a regulation is valid if it is "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Id. at 89.
The Supreme Court then identified factors relevant to determining the reasonableness of a regulation:
(1) whether there is a rational relationship between the prison regulation and the governmental interest justifying it;
(2) whether there are alternative means for exercising the right that are consistent with the prison setting;
(3) the extent to which accommodating the right will affect other prisoners, guards, or the allocation of prison resources;
(4) the availability of ready alternatives that could accommodate the inmate's complaint. Id. at 89-90.
Applying these factors, the Court upheld the inmate-correspondence rule as being reasonably related to legitimate security interests, but struck down the marriage restriction as constituting "an exaggerated response to [the prison's] rehabilitation and security concerns." Id. at 91.
Although the regulations at issue in Turner implicated the inmates' freedom-of-association and due-process rights, the Supreme Court has applied the Turner test to other alleged constitutional violations.
It has not, however, addressed whether Turner's standard of review applies to an Establishment Clause complaint.
Since Turner was decided, an overwhelming majority of the courts that have considered an inmate's Establishment Clause challenge have declined to apply Turner in assessing the constitutionality of a prison's actions.
For the reasons that follow, we similarly decline to apply Turner to an Establishment Clause claim.
In adopting the Turner standard of review, the Supreme Court sought to ensure that even when the needs of prison administration implicate an inmate's constitutional rights, corrections officials retain the discretion to anticipate security problems and then adopt innovative solutions to those problems. See id. at 89.
Subjecting the day-to-day judgments of prison officials to an inflexible strict-scrutiny analysis would, according to the Court, "distort the decisionmaking process, for every administrative judgment would be subject to the possibility that some court somewhere would conclude that it had a less restrictive way of solving the problem at hand." Id.