Pell v. Procunier
Annotate this Case
417 U.S. 817 (1974)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817 (1974)
Pell v. Procunier
Argued April 117, 1974
Decided June 24, 1974*
417 U.S. 817
Four California prison inmates and three professional journalists brought this suit in the District Court challenging the constitutionality of a regulation, § 415.071, of the California Department of Corrections Manual, which provides that "[p]ress and other media interviews with specific individual inmates will not be permitted." That provision was promulgated following a violent prison episode that the correction authorities attributed at least in part to the former policy of free face-to-face prisoner-press interviews, which had resulted in a relatively small number of inmates gaining disproportionate notoriety and influence among their fellow inmates. The District Court granted the inmate appellees' motion for summary judgment, holding that § 415.071, insofar as it prohibited inmates from having face-to-face communication with journalists unconstitutionally infringed the inmates' First and Fourteenth Amendment freedoms. The court granted a motion to dismiss with respect to the claims of the media appellants, holding that their rights were not infringed, in view of their otherwise available rights to enter state institutions and interview inmates at random and the even broader access afforded prisoners by the court's ruling with respect to the inmate appellees. The prison officials (in No. 73-754) and the journalists (in No. 73-918) have appealed.
1. In light of the alternative channels of communication that are open to the inmate appellees, § 415.071 does not constitute a violation of their rights of free speech. Pp. 417 U. S. 821-828.
(a) A prison inmate retains those First Amendment rights that are not inconsistent with his status as prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system, and here the restrictions on inmates' free speech rights must be balanced against the State's legitimate interest in confining prisoners
to deter crime, to protect society by quarantining criminal offenders for a period during which rehabilitative procedures can be applied, and to maintain the internal security of penal institutions. Pp. 417 U. S. 822-824.
(b) Alternative means of communication remain open to the inmates; they can correspond by mail with persons (including media representatives), Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U. S. 396; they have rights of visitation with family, clergy, attorneys, and friends of prior acquaintance; and they have unrestricted opportunity to communicate with the press or public through their prison visitors. Pp. 417 U. S. 824-828.
2. The rights of the media appellants under the First and Fourteenth Amendments are not infringed by § 415.071, which does not deny the press access to information available to the general public. Newsmen, under California policy, are free to visit both maximum security and minimum security sections of California penal institutions and to speak with inmates whom they may encounter, and (unlike members of the general public) are also free to interview inmates selected at random. "[T]he First Amendment does not guarantee the press a constitutional right of special access to information not available to the public generally." Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U. S. 665, 408 U. S. 684. Pp. 417 U. S. 829-835.
364 F.Supp. 196, vacated and remanded.
STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined and in Part I of which POWELL, J., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 417 U. S. 835. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 417 U. S. 836.