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
1. The lower courts erred in ruling that Procunier v.
Martinez, 416 U. S. 396
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
Page 481 U. S. 79
costs to valid penological interests being evidence of
unreasonableness. 482 U. S.
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. 482 U. S.
3. The constitutional right of prisoners to marry is
impermissibly burdened by the Missouri marriage regulation.
482 U. S.
(a) Prisoners have a constitutionally protected right to marry
under Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.
. 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,
distinguished. 482 U. S.
(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
Page 482 U. S. 80
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. 482 U. S.
777 F.2d 1307, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and
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.,
p. 482 U. S.
Page 482 U. S. 81
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
Page 482 U. S. 82
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
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.
, 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.
The District Court certified respondents as a class pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. The class certified by the
District Court includes
"persons who either are or may be confined to the Renz
Correctional Center and who desire to correspond with inmates at
other Missouri correctional facilities."
It also encompasses a broader group of persons
"who desire to . . . marry inmates of Missouri correctional
institutions and whose rights of . . . marriage have been or will
be violated by employees of the Missouri Division of
Page 482 U. S. 83
The District Court issued a memorandum opinion and order finding
both the correspondence and marriage regulations unconstitutional.
The court, relying on Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.
, 416 U. S.
-414 (1974), applied a strict scrutiny standard. It
held the marriage regulation to be an unconstitutional infringement
upon the fundamental right to marry because it was far more
restrictive than was either reasonable or essential for the
protection of the State's interests in security and rehabilitation.
586 F. Supp. at 594. The correspondence regulation also was
unnecessarily broad, the court concluded, because prison officials
could effectively cope with the security problems raised by
inmate-to-inmate correspondence through less restrictive means,
such as scanning the mail of potentially troublesome inmates.
at 596. The District Court also held that the
correspondence regulation had been applied in an arbitrary and
The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. 777 F.2d
1307 (1985). The Court of Appeals held that the District Court
properly used strict scrutiny in evaluating the constitutionality
of the Missouri correspondence and marriage regulations. Under
Procunier v. Martinez, supra,
regulation could be justified
"only if it furthers an important or substantial governmental
interest unrelated to the suppression of expression, and the
limitation is no greater than necessary or essential to protect
777 F.2d at 1310. The correspondence regulation did not satisfy
this standard, because it was not the least restrictive means of
achieving the security goals of the regulation. In the Court of
Appeals' view, prison officials could meet the problem of inmate
conspiracies by exercising their authority to open and read all
prisoner mail. Id.
at 1315-1316. The Court of Appeals also
concluded that the marriage rule was not the least restrictive
means of achieving the asserted goals of rehabilitation and
security. The goal of rehabilitation could be met through
Page 482 U. S. 84
as counseling, and violent "love triangles" were as likely to
occur without a formal marriage ceremony as with one.
Absent evidence that the relationship was or would
become abusive, the connection between an inmate's marriage and the
subsequent commission of a crime was simply too tenuous to justify
denial of this constitutional right. Id.
We granted certiorari, 476 U.S. 1139 (1986).
We begin, as did the courts below, with our decision in
Procunier v. Martinez, supra,
which described the
principles that necessarily frame our analysis of prisoners'
constitutional claims. The first of these principles is that
federal courts must take cognizance of the valid constitutional
claims of prison inmates. Id.
at 416 U. S. 405
Prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from
the protections of the Constitution. Hence, for example, prisoners
retain the constitutional right to petition the government for the
redress of grievances, Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.
(1969); they are protected against invidious
racial discrimination by the Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment, Lee v. Washington, 390 U.
(1968); and they enjoy the protections of due
process, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.
(1974); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.
(1972). Because prisoners retain these
"[w]hen a prison regulation or practice offends a fundamental
constitutional guarantee, federal courts will discharge their duty
to protect constitutional rights."
Procunier v. Martinez,
416 U.S. at 416 U. S.
A second principle identified in Martinez,
the recognition that "courts are ill-equipped to deal with the
increasingly urgent problems of prison administration and reform."
at 416 U. S. 405
As the [Martinez] Court acknowledged,
"the problems of prisons in America are complex and intractable,
and, more to the point, they are not readily susceptible of
resolution by decree."
at 416 U. S.
-405. Running a prison
Page 482 U. S. 85
is an inordinately difficult undertaking that requires
expertise, planning, and the commitment of resources, all of which
are peculiarly within the province of the legislative and executive
branches of government. Prison administration is, moreover, a task
that has been committed to the responsibility of those branches,
and separation of powers concerns counsel a policy of judicial
restraint. Where a state penal system is involved, federal courts
have, as we indicated in Martinez,
additional reason to
accord deference to the appropriate prison authorities. See
at 416 U. S.
Our task, then, as we stated in Martinez,
formulate a standard of review for prisoners' constitutional claims
that is responsive both to the "policy of judicial restraint
regarding prisoner complaints and [to] the need to protect
constitutional rights." Id.
at 416 U. S. 406
As the Court of Appeals acknowledged, Martinez
itself resolve the question that it framed. Martinez
involved mail censorship regulations proscribing statements that
"unduly complain," "magnify grievances," or express "inflammatory
political, racial, religious or other views." Id.
416 U. S. 415
In that case, the Court determined that the proper standard of
review for prison restrictions on correspondence between prisoners
and members of the general public could be decided without
resolving the "broad questions of prisoners' rights.'"
Id. at 416 U. S. 408.
The Martinez Court based its ruling striking down the
content-based regulation on the First Amendment rights of those who
are not prisoners, stating that
"[w]hatever the status of a prisoner's claim to uncensored
correspondence with an outsider, it is plain that the latter's
interest is grounded in the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom
at 416 U. S. 408
Our holding therefore turned on the fact that the challenged
regulation caused a "consequential restriction on the First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights of those who are not
at 416 U. S. 409
(emphasis added). We expressly reserved the question of the proper
Page 482 U. S. 86
review to apply in cases "involving questions of prisoners'
In four cases following Martinez,
this Court has
addressed such "questions of prisoners' rights.'" The first of
these, Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.
S. 817 (1974), decided the same Term as
Martinez, involved a constitutional challenge to a prison
regulation prohibiting face-to-face media interviews with
individual inmates. The Court rejected the inmates' First Amendment
challenge to the ban on media interviews, noting that judgments
regarding prison security
"are peculiarly within the province and professional expertise
of corrections officials, and, in the absence of substantial
evidence in the record to indicate that the officials have
exaggerated their response to these considerations, courts should
ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters."
417 U.S. at 417 U. S.
The next case to consider a claim of prisoners' rights was
Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union, 433 U.
(1977). There the Court considered prison
regulations that prohibited meetings of a "prisoners' labor union,"
inmate solicitation of other inmates to join the union, and bulk
mailings concerning the union from outside sources. Noting that the
lower court in Jones
"got[ten] off on the wrong foot . . . by not giving appropriate
deference to the decisions of prison administrators and appropriate
recognition to the peculiar and restrictive circumstances of penal
at 433 U. S. 125
the Court determined that the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights
of prisoners were "barely implicated" by the prohibition on bulk
mailings, see id.
at 433 U. S. 130
and that the regulation was "reasonable" under the circumstances.
The prisoners' constitutional challenge to the union meeting and
solicitation restrictions was also rejected, because
"[t]he ban on inmate solicitation and group meetings . . . was
rationally related to the reasonable, indeed to the central,
objectives of prison administration."
at 433 U. S.
Page 482 U. S. 87
Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U. S. 520
(1979), concerned a First Amendment challenge to a Bureau of
Prisons rule restricting inmates' receipt of hardback books unless
mailed directly from publishers, book clubs, or bookstores. The
rule was upheld as a "rational response" to a clear security
at 441 U. S. 550
Because there was "no evidence" that officials had exaggerated
their response to the security problem, the Court held that "the
considered judgment of these experts must control in the absence of
prohibitions far more sweeping than those involved here."
at 441 U. S. 551
And in Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.
(1984), a ban on contact visits was upheld on the
ground that "responsible, experienced administrators have
determined, in their sound discretion, that such visits will
jeopardize the security of the facility," and the regulation was
"reasonably related" to these security concerns. Id.
468 U. S. 589
468 U. S.
In none of these four "prisoners' rights" cases did the Court
apply a standard of heightened scrutiny, but instead inquired
whether a prison regulation that burdens fundamental rights is
"reasonably related" to legitimate penological objectives, or
whether it represents an "exaggerated response" to those concerns.
The Court of Appeals in this case nevertheless concluded that
provided the closest analogy for determining the
appropriate standard of review for resolving respondents'
constitutional complaints. The Court of Appeals distinguished this
Court's decisions in Pell, Jones, Bell,
as variously involving "time, place, or manner" regulations, or
regulations that restrict "presumptively dangerous" inmate
777 F.2d at 1310-1312. The Court of
Appeals acknowledged that Martinez
had expressly reserved
the question of the appropriate standard of review based on
inmates' constitutional claims, but it nonetheless believed that
standard was the proper one to apply to
respondents' constitutional claims.
We disagree with the Court of Appeals that the reasoning in our
cases subsequent to Martinez
can be so narrowly
Page 482 U. S. 88
cabined. In Pell,
for example, it was found "relevant"
to the reasonableness of a restriction on face-to-face visits
between prisoners and news reporters that prisoners had other means
of communicating with members of the general public. See
417 U.S. at 417 U. S.
-824. These alternative means of communication did
not, however, make the prison regulation a "time, place, or manner"
restriction in any ordinary sense of the term. As Pell
acknowledged, the alternative methods of personal communication
still available to prisoners would have been "unimpressive" if
offered to justify a restriction on personal communication among
members of the general public. Id.
at 417 U. S. 825
Nevertheless, they were relevant in determining the scope of the
burden placed by the regulation on inmates' First Amendment rights.
thus simply teaches that it is appropriate to
consider the extent of this burden when "we [are] called upon to
balance First Amendment rights against [legitimate] governmental
at 417 U. S.
Nor, in our view, can the reasonableness standard adopted in
be construed as applying only to
"presumptively dangerous" inmate activities. To begin with, the
Court of Appeals did not indicate how it would identify such
"presumptively dangerous" conduct, other than to conclude that the
group meetings in Jones,
and the receipt of hardback books
both fall into that category. See
F.2d at 1311-1312. The Court of Appeals found that correspondence
between inmates did not come within this grouping, because the
court did "not think a letter presents the same sort of obvious
security problem' as does a hardback book." Id. at 1312.
It is not readily apparent, however, why hardback books, which can
be scanned for contraband by electronic devices and fluoroscopes,
see Bell v. Wolfish, supra, at 441 U. S. 574
(MARSHALL, J., dissenting), are qualitatively different in this
respect from inmate correspondence, which can be written in codes
not readily subject to detection; or why coordinated inmate
activity within the same prison is categorically different
Page 482 U. S. 89
from inmate activity coordinated by mail among different prison
institutions. The determination that an activity is "presumptively
dangerous" appears simply to be a conclusion about the
reasonableness of the prison restriction in light of the
articulated security concerns. It therefore provides a tenuous
basis for creating a hierarchy of standards of review.
If Pell, Jones,
have not already
resolved the question posed in Martinez,
we resolve it
now: when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional
rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to
legitimate penological interests. In our view, such a standard is
necessary if "prison administrators . . and not the courts, [are]
to make the difficult judgments concerning institutional
operations." Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union,
U.S. at 433 U. S. 128
Subjecting the day-to-day judgments of prison officials to an
inflexible strict scrutiny analysis would seriously hamper their
ability to anticipate security problems and to adopt innovative
solutions to the intractable problems of prison administration. The
rule would also 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. Courts inevitably would become
the primary arbiters of what constitutes the best solution to every
administrative problem, thereby "unnecessarily perpetuat[ing] the
involvement of the federal courts in affairs of prison
administration." Procunier v. Martinez,
416 U.S. at
416 U. S.
As our opinions in Pell, Bell,
several factors are relevant in determining the reasonableness of
the regulation at issue. First, there must be a "valid, rational
connection" between the prison regulation and the legitimate
governmental interest put forward to justify it. Block v.
468 U. S. 586
. Thus, a regulation cannot be sustained
where the logical connection between the regulation and the
asserted goal is so remote as to render the policy
Page 482 U. S. 90
arbitrary or irrational. Moreover, the governmental objective
must be a legitimate and neutral one. We have found it important to
inquire whether prison regulations restricting inmates' First
Amendment rights operated in a neutral fashion, without regard to
the content of the expression. See Pell v. Procunier,
U.S. at 417 U. S. 828
Bell v. Wolffish,
441 U.S. at 441 U. S.
A second factor relevant in determining the reasonableness of a
prison restriction, as Pell
shows, is whether there are
alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to
prison inmates. Where "other avenues" remain available for the
exercise of the asserted right, see Jones v. North Carolina
Prisoners' Union, supra,
at 433 U. S. 131
courts should be particularly conscious of the "measure of judicial
deference owed to corrections officials . . . in gauging the
validity of the regulation." Pell v. Procunier, supra,
417 U. S.
A third consideration is the impact accommodation of the
asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other
inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally. In
the necessarily closed environment of the correctional institution,
few changes will have no ramifications on the liberty of others or
on the use of the prison's limited resources for preserving
institutional order. When accommodation of an asserted right will
have a significant "ripple effect" on fellow inmates or on prison
staff, courts should be particularly deferential to the informed
discretion of corrections officials. Cf. Jones v. North
Carolina Prisoners' Union, supra,
at 433 U. S.
Finally, the absence of ready alternatives is evidence of the
reasonableness of a prison regulation. See Block v.
468 U.S. at 468 U. S. 587
By the same token, the existence of obvious, easy alternatives may
be evidence that the regulation is not reasonable, but is an
"exaggerated response" to prison concerns. This is not a "least
restrictive alternative" test: prison officials do not have to set
up and then shoot down every conceivable alternative method of
Page 482 U. S. 91
the claimant's constitutional complaint. See ibid.
if an inmate claimant can point to an alternative that fully
accommodates the prisoner's rights at de minimis
valid penological interests, a court may consider that as evidence
that the regulation does not satisfy the reasonable relationship
Applying our analysis to the Missouri rule barring
inmate-to-inmate correspondence, we conclude that the record
clearly demonstrates that the regulation was reasonably related to
legitimate security interests. We find that the marriage
restriction, however, does not satisfy the reasonable relationship
standard, but rather constitutes an exaggerated response to
petitioners' rehabilitation and security concerns.
According to the testimony at trial, the Missouri correspondence
provision was promulgated primarily for security reasons. Prison
officials testified that mail between institutions can be used to
communicate escape plans and to arrange assaults and other violent
acts. 2 Tr. 76; 4 id.
at 225-228. Witnesses stated that
the Missouri Division of Corrections had a growing problem with
prison gangs, and that restricting communications among gang
members, both by transferring gang members to different
institutions and by restricting their correspondence, was an
important element in combating this problem. 2 id.
75-77; 3 id.
at 266-267; 4 id.
at 226. Officials
also testified that the use of Renz as a facility to provide
protective custody for certain inmates could be compromised by
permitting correspondence between inmates at Renz and inmates at
other correctional institutions. 3 id.
The prohibition on correspondence between institutions is
logically connected to these legitimate security concerns.
Undoubtedly, communication with other felons is a potential spur to
criminal behavior: this sort of contact frequently is
Page 482 U. S. 92
prohibited even after an inmate has been released on parole.
28 CFR § 2.40(a)(10) (1986) (federal parole
conditioned on nonassociation with known criminals, unless
permission is granted by the parole officer). In Missouri prisons,
the danger of such coordinated criminal activity is exacerbated by
the presence of prison gangs. The Missouri policy of separating and
isolating gang members -- a strategy that has been frequently used
to control gang activity, see
G. Camp & C. Camp, U.S.
Dept. of Justice, Prison Gangs: Their Extent, Nature and Impact on
Prisons 64-65 (1985) -- logically is furthered by the restriction
on prisoner-to-prisoner correspondence. Moreover, the
correspondence regulation does not deprive prisoners of all means
of expression. Rather, it bars communication only with a limited
class of other people with whom prison officials have particular
cause to be concerned -- inmates at other institutions within the
Missouri prison system.
We also think that the Court of Appeals' analysis overlooks the
impact of respondents' asserted right on other inmates and prison
personnel. Prison officials have stated that, in their expert
opinion, correspondence between prison institutions facilitates the
development of informal organizations that threaten the core
functions of prison administration, maintaining safety and internal
security. As a result, the correspondence rights asserted by
respondents, like the organizational activities at issue in
Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union, 433 U.
(1977), can be exercised only at the cost of
significantly less liberty and safety for everyone else, guards and
other prisoners alike. Indeed, the potential "ripple effect" is
even broader here than in Jones,
because exercise of the
right affects the inmates and staff of more than one institution.
Where exercise of a right requires this kind of tradeoff, we think
that the choice made by corrections officials -- which is, after
all, a judgment "peculiarly within [their] province and
professional expertise," Pell v. Procunier,
Page 482 U. S. 93
417 U.S. at 417 U. S. 827
-- should not be lightly set aside by the courts.
Finally, there are no obvious, easy alternatives to the policy
adopted by petitioners. Other well-run prison systems, including
the Federal Bureau of Prisons, have concluded that substantially
similar restrictions on inmate correspondence were necessary to
protect institutional order and security. See, e.g.,
CFR § 540.17 (1986). As petitioners have shown, the only
alternative proffered by the claimant prisoners, the monitoring of
inmate correspondence, clearly would impose more than a de
cost on the pursuit of legitimate corrections goals.
Prison officials testified that it would be impossible to read
every piece of inmate-to-inmate correspondence, 3 Tr. 159, 4
at 42-43, and consequently there would be an
appreciable risk of missing dangerous messages. In any event,
prisoners could easily write in jargon or codes to prevent
detection of their real messages. See
Camp & Camp,
at 130 (noting "frequent" use of coded
correspondence by gang members in federal prison); see
Brief for State of Texas as Amicus Curiae
The risk of missing dangerous communications, taken together with
the sheer burden on staff resources required to conduct
item-by-item censorship, see
3 Tr. 176, supports the
judgment of prison officials that this alternative is not an
adequate alternative to restricting correspondence.
The prohibition on correspondence is reasonably related to valid
corrections goals. The rule is content-neutral, it logically
advances the goals of institutional security and safety identified
by Missouri prison officials, and it is not an exaggerated response
to those objectives. On that basis, we conclude that the regulation
does not unconstitutionally abridge the First Amendment rights of
prison inmates. *
Page 482 U. S. 94
In support of the marriage regulation, petitioners first suggest
that the rule does not deprive prisoners of a constitutionally
Page 482 U. S. 95
protected right. They concede that the decision to marry is a
fundamental right under Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.
(1978), and Loving v. Virginia,
388 U. S. 1
but they imply that a different rule should obtain "in . . . a
prison forum." See
Brief for Petitioners 38, n. 6.
Petitioners then argue that, even if the regulation burdens
inmates' constitutional rights, the restriction should be tested
under a reasonableness standard. They urge that the restriction is
reasonably related to legitimate security and rehabilitation
We disagree with petitioners that Zablocki
apply to prison inmates. It is settled that a prison inmate
"retains those [constitutional] rights that are not inconsistent
with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological
objectives of the corrections system."
Pell v. Procunier, supra,
at 417 U. S. 822
The right to marry, like many other rights, is subject to
substantial restrictions as a result of incarceration. Many
important attributes of marriage remain, however, after taking into
account the limitations imposed by prison life. First, inmate
marriages, like others, are expressions of emotional support and
public commitment. These elements
Page 482 U. S. 96
are an important and significant aspect of the marital
relationship. In addition, many religions recognize marriage as
having spiritual significance; for some inmates and their spouses,
therefore, the commitment of marriage may be an exercise of
religious faith as well as an expression of personal dedication.
Third, most inmates eventually will be released by parole or
commutation, and therefore most inmate marriages are formed in the
expectation that they ultimately will be fully consummated.
Finally, marital status often is a precondition to the receipt of
government benefits (e.g.,
Social Security benefits),
property rights (e.g.,
tenancy by the entirety,
inheritance rights), and other, less tangible benefits
legitimation of children born out of wedlock).
These incidents of marriage, like the religious and personal
aspects of the marriage commitment, are unaffected by the fact of
confinement or the pursuit of legitimate corrections goals.
Taken together, we conclude that these remaining elements are
sufficient to form a constitutionally protected marital
relationship in the prison context. Our decision in Butler v.
415 U.S. 953 (1974), summarily affirming Johnson
v. Rockefeller, 365 F.
(SDNY 1973), is not to the contrary. That case
involved a prohibition on marriage only for inmates sentenced to
life imprisonment; and, importantly, denial of the right was part
of the punishment for crime. See id.
at 381-382 (Lasker,
J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (asserted
governmental interest of punishing crime sufficiently important to
justify deprivation of right); see generally Mandel v.
Bradley, 432 U. S. 173
432 U. S. 176
(1977) ("Because a summary affirmance is an affirmance of the
judgment only, the rationale of the affirmance may not be gleaned
solely from the opinion below").
The Missouri marriage regulation prohibits inmates from marrying
unless the prison superintendent has approved the marriage after
finding that there are compelling reasons for doing so. As noted
previously, generally only pregnancy or birth of a child is
considered a "compelling reason" to approve
Page 482 U. S. 97
a marriage. In determining whether this regulation impermissibly
burdens the right to marry, we note initially that the regulation
prohibits marriages between inmates and civilians, as well as
marriages between inmates. See
Brief for Petitioners 40.
Although not urged by respondents, this implication of the
interests of nonprisoners may support application of the
standard, because the regulation may entail a
"consequential restriction on the [constitutional] rights of those
who are not prisoners." See Procunier v. Martinez,
U.S. at 416 U. S. 409
We need not reach this question, however, because, even under the
reasonable relationship test, the marriage regulation does not
Petitioners have identified both security and rehabilitation
concerns in support of the marriage prohibition. The security
concern emphasized by petitioners is that "love triangles" might
lead to violent confrontations between inmates. See
for Petitioners 13, 36, 39. With respect to rehabilitation, prison
officials testified that female prisoners often were subject to
abuse at home or were overly dependent on male figures, and that
this dependence or abuse was connected to the crimes they had
committed. 3 Tr. 154-155. The superintendent at Renz, petitioner
William Turner, testified that, in his view, these women prisoners
needed to concentrate on developing skills of self-reliance, 1
at 80-81, and that the prohibition on marriage
furthered this rehabilitative goal. Petitioners emphasize that the
prohibition on marriage should be understood in light of
Superintendent Turner's experience with several ill-advised
marriage requests from female inmates. Brief for Petitioners
We conclude that on this record, the Missouri prison regulation,
as written, is not reasonably related to these penological
interests. No doubt legitimate security concerns may require
placing reasonable restrictions upon an inmate's right to marry,
and may justify requiring approval of the superintendent. The
Missouri regulation, however, represents an
Page 482 U. S. 98
exaggerated response to such security objectives. There are
obvious, easy alternatives to the Missouri regulation that
accommodate the right to marry while imposing a de minimis
burden on the pursuit of security objectives. See, e.g.,
28 CFR § 551.10 (1986) (marriage by inmates in federal prison
generally permitted, but not if warden finds that it presents a
threat to security or order of institution, or to public safety).
We are aware of no place in the record where prison officials
testified that such ready alternatives would not fully satisfy
their security concerns. Moreover, with respect to the security
concern emphasized in petitioners' brief -- the creation of "love
triangles" -- petitioners have pointed to nothing in the record
suggesting that the marriage regulation was viewed as preventing
such entanglements. Common sense likewise suggests that there is no
logical connection between the marriage restriction and the
formation of love triangles: surely, in prisons housing both male
and female prisoners, inmate rivalries are as likely to develop
without a formal marriage ceremony as with one. Finally, this is
not an instance where the "ripple effect" on the security of fellow
inmates and prison staff justifies a broad restriction on inmates'
rights -- indeed, where the inmate wishes to marry a civilian, the
decision to marry (apart from the logistics of the wedding
ceremony) is a completely private one.
Nor, on this record, is the marriage restriction reasonably
related to the articulated rehabilitation goal. First, in requiring
refusal of permission absent a finding of a compelling reason to
allow the marriage, the rule sweeps much more broadly than can be
explained by petitioners' penological objectives. Missouri prison
officials testified that generally they had experienced no problem
with the marriage of male inmates, see, e.g.,
2 Tr. 21-22,
and the District Court found that such marriages had routinely been
allowed as a matter of practice at Missouri correctional
institutions prior to adoption of the rule, 586 F. Supp. at 592.
The proffered justification thus does not explain the adoption of a
Page 482 U. S. 99
marriages by these inmates. Nor does it account for the
prohibition on inmate marriages to civilians. Missouri prison
officials testified that generally they had no objection to
inmate-civilian marriages, see, e.g.,
4 Tr. 240-241, and
Superintendent Turner testified that he usually did not object to
the marriage of either male or female prisoners to civilians, 2
at 141-142. The rehabilitation concern appears from
the record to have been centered almost exclusively on female
inmates marrying other inmates or ex-felons; it does not account
for the ban on inmate-civilian marriages.
Moreover, although not necessary to the disposition of this
case, we note that, on this record, the rehabilitative objective
asserted to support the regulation itself is suspect. Of the
several female inmates whose marriage requests were discussed by
prison officials at trial, only one was refused on the basis of
fostering excessive dependency. The District Court found that the
Missouri prison system operated on the basis of excessive
paternalism in that the proposed marriages of all female inmates
were scrutinized carefully even before adoption of the current
regulation -- only one was approved at Renz in the period from
1979-1983 -- whereas the marriages of male inmates during the same
period were routinely approved. That kind of lopsided
rehabilitation concern cannot provide a justification for the broad
Missouri marriage rule.
It is undisputed that Missouri prison officials may regulate the
time and circumstances under which the marriage ceremony itself
takes place. See
Brief for Respondents 5. On this record,
however, the almost complete ban on the decision to marry is not
reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives. We
conclude, therefore, that the Missouri marriage regulation is
We uphold the facial validity of the correspondence regulation,
but we conclude that the marriage rule is constitutionally
Page 482 U. S. 100
infirm. We read petitioners' additional challenge to the
District Court's findings of fact to be a claim that the District
Court erred in holding that the correspondence regulation had been
applied by prison officials in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
Because the Court of Appeals did not address this question, we
remand the issue to the Court of Appeals for its consideration.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals striking down
the Missouri marriage regulation is affirmed; its judgment
invalidating the correspondence rule is reversed; and the case is
remanded to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings consistent
with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
* Suggesting that there is little difference between the
"unnecessarily sweeping" standard applied by the District Court in
reaching its judgment and the reasonableness standard described in
Part II, see post
at 482 U. S. 105
JUSTICE STEVENS complains that we have "ignore[d] the findings of
fact that were made by the District Court," post
482 U. S. 102
n. 2, and have improperly "encroach[ed] into the factfinding domain
of the District Court." Post
at 482 U. S.
The District Court's inquiry as to whether the regulations were
"needlessly broad" is not just semantically different from the
standard we have articulated in Part II: it is the least
restrictive alternative test of Procunier v. Martinez,
416 U. S. 396
(1974). As Martinez
states, in a passage quoted by the
"[T]he limitation of First Amendment freedoms must be no greater
than is necessary or essential to the protection of the particular
governmental interest involved. Thus a restriction on inmate
correspondence . . . will . . . be invalid if its sweep is
at 416 U. S.
-414 (emphasis added).
The District Court's judgment that the correspondence regulation
was "unnecessarily sweeping," 586 F.
, 596 (WD Mo.1984), thus was a judgment based on
application of an erroneous legal standard. The District Court's
findings of fact 7 and 13 likewise are predicated on application of
the least restrictive means standard. Finding 7 is that the
correspondence rule was applied without a letter-by-letter
determination of harm, and without a showing that "there is no less
restrictive alternative" available; finding 13 reiterates that the
correspondence rule operated as a complete ban. See id.
591-592. These findings are important only if petitioners have to
show that the correspondence regulation satisfies a least
restrictive alternative test: they are largely beside the point
where the inquiry is simply whether the regulation is reasonably
related to a legitimate governmental interest.
JUSTICE STEVENS' charge of appellate factfinding likewise
suffers from the flawed premise that Part III-A answers the
question JUSTICE STEVENS would pose, namely, whether the
correspondence regulation satisfies strict scrutiny. Thus, our
conclusion that there is a logical
security concerns identified by petitioners and a ban on
inmate-to-inmate correspondence, see supra
at 482 U. S. 91
becomes, in JUSTICE STEVENS' hands, a searching examination of the
record to determine whether there was sufficient proof that inmate
correspondence had actually led to an escape plot, uprising, or
gang violence at Renz. See post
at 482 U. S.
-109. Likewise, our conclusion that monitoring inmate
correspondence "clearly would impose more than a de
cost on the pursuit of legitimate corrections goals,"
at 482 U. S. 93
described as a factual "finding" that it would be "an
insurmountable task" to read all correspondence sent to or received
by the inmates at Renz. Post
at 482 U. S. 110
482 U. S. 112
Nowhere, of course, do we make such a "finding," nor is it
necessary to do so unless one is applying a least restrictive means
Finally, JUSTICE STEVENS complains that Renz' ban on inmate
correspondence cannot be reasonably related to legitimate
corrections goals, because it is more restrictive than the rule at
other Missouri institutions. As our previous decisions make clear,
however, the Constitution
"does not mandate a lowest common denominator' security
standard, whereby a practice permitted at one penal institution
must be permitted at all institutions."
Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U. S. 520
441 U. S. 554
(1979). Renz raises different security concerns from other Missouri
institutions, both because it houses medium and maximum security
prisoners in a facility without walls or guard towers and because
it is used to house inmates in protective custody. Moreover, the
Renz rule is consistent with the practice of other well-run
institutions, including institutions in the federal system.
Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae
JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN, JUSTICE MARSHALL,
and JUSTICE BLACKMUN join, concurring in part and dissenting in
How a court describes its standard of review when a prison
regulation infringes fundamental constitutional rights often has
far less consequence for the inmates than the actual showing that
the court demands of the State in order to uphold the regulation.
This case provides a prime example.
There would not appear to be much difference between the
question whether a prison regulation that burdens fundamental
rights in the quest for security is "needlessly broad" -- the
standard applied by the District Court and the Court of Appeals --
and this Court's requirement that the regulation must be
"reasonably related to legitimate penological interests,"
at 482 U. S. 89
and may not represent "an exaggerated response' to those
concerns." Ante at 482 U. S. 87.
But if the standard can be satisfied by nothing more than a
"logical connection" between the regulation and any
legitimate penological concern perceived by a cautious warden,
see ante at 482 U. S. 94, n.
(emphasis in original), it is virtually meaningless. Application of
the standard would seem to permit disregard for inmates'
constitutional rights whenever the imagination of the
Page 482 U. S. 101
warden produces a plausible security concern and a deferential
trial court is able to discern a logical connection between that
concern and the challenged regulation. Indeed, there is a logical
connection between prison discipline and the use of bullwhips on
prisoners; and security is logically furthered by a total ban on
inmate communication, not only with other inmates but also with
outsiders who conceivably might be interested in arranging an
attack within the prison or an escape from it. Thus, I dissent from
Part II of the Court's opinion. [Footnote 1
I am able to join Part III-B because the Court's invalidation of
the marriage regulation does not rely on a rejection of a standard
of review more stringent than the one announced in Part II. See
at 482 U. S. 97
The Court in Part III-B concludes after careful examination that,
even applying a "reasonableness" standard, the marriage regulation
must fail because the justifications asserted on its behalf lack
record support. Part III-A, however, is not only based on an
application of the Court's newly minted standard, see ante
at 482 U. S. 89
but also represents the product of a plainly improper appellate
encroachment into the factfinding domain of the District Court.
See Icicle Seafoods, Inc. v. Worthington, 475 U.
, 475 U. S. 714
(1986). Indeed, a fundamental difference between the Court of
Appeals and this Court in this case -- and the principal point of
this dissent -- rests in the respective ways the two courts have
examined and made use of the trial record. In my opinion, the Court
of Appeals correctly held that the trial court's findings of fact
adequately supported its judgment sustaining the inmates' challenge
to the mail
Page 482 U. S. 102
regulation as it has been administered at the Renz Correctional
Center in Cedar City, Missouri. In contrast, this Court sifts the
trial testimony on its own [Footnote 2
] in order to uphold a general prohibition
against correspondence between unrelated inmates.
This is not a case in which it is particularly helpful to begin
by determining the "proper" standard of review, as if the result of
that preliminary activity would somehow lighten the Court's duty to
decide this case. The precise issue before us is evident from
respondents' complaint, which makes clear that they were not
launching an exclusively facial attack against the correspondence
regulation. Respondents instead leveled their primary challenge
against the application of this regulation to mail addressed to or
sent by inmates at Renz:
"20. On information and belief, correspondence between
non-family members at different institutions within the Missouri
Division of Correction system is permitted at all institutions with
the exception of Renz. On information and belief, defendant Turner
and other employees of the Missouri Division of Corrections have a
pattern and practice of refusing to permit inmates of Renz to
correspond with or receive letters from inmates at other
correctional institutions, a situation which appears to be unique
within the Missouri Division of Corrections."
"21. On information and belief, the reason given for refusing
such correspondence is that Superintendent Turner feels that
correspondence between inmates is not
Page 482 U. S. 103
in the best interest of any inmate. In this manner, defendant
Turner has violated the constitutional right of every inmate
residing at Renz and any inmate who desires to correspond with an
inmate residing at Renz."
Amended Complaint, App. 11-12.
On their face, the regulations generally applicable to the
Missouri Correctional System permit correspondence between
unrelated inmates "if the classification/treatment team of each
inmate deems it in the best interests of the parties involved."
] After a bench
trial, however, the District Court found that there was a total ban
on such correspondence at Renz:
"6. The provisions of the divisional correspondence regulation
allowing the classification/treatment team of each inmate to
prohibit inmate-to-inmate correspondence have not been followed at
Renz. Theoretically the classification/treatment team uses
psychological reports, conduct violations, and progress reports in
deciding whether to permit correspondence. At Renz, however, the
rule as practiced is that inmates may not write non-family inmates
or receive mail from non-family inmates. The more restrictive
practice is set forth in the Renz Inmate Orientation Booklet
presented to each inmate upon arrival at Renz. The restrictive rule
at Renz is commonly known throughout the Missouri Correctional
"7. The Renz rule against inmate-to-inmate correspondence is
enforced without a determination that the security or order of Renz
or the rehabilitation of the inmate would be harmed by allowing the
particular correspondence to proceed, and without a determination
that there is no less restrictive alternative to resolve any
legitimate concerns of the Department of Corrections short of
prohibiting all correspondence. "
Page 482 U. S. 104
"8. Inmates at most institutions in the Missouri Correctional
System are permitted to correspond with inmates in most other
institutions. The greatest restriction on inmate correspondence is
practiced at Renz."
, 591 (WD Mo.1984).
"13. Correspondence between inmates has been denied despite
evidence that the correspondence was desired simply to maintain
at 591-592. These factual findings, which bear out
respondents' complaint, served as the basis for the District
"Even if some restriction on inmate-to-inmate correspondence can
be justified, the regulations and practices at bar must fall. The
prohibitions are unnecessarily sweeping. Correspondence is a
sufficiently protected right that it cannot be cut off simply
because the recipient is in another prison, and the inmates cannot
demonstrate special cause for the correspondence. . . ."
"* * * *"
"Defendants have failed to demonstrate that the needs of Renz
are sufficiently different to justify greater censorship than is
applied by other well-run institutions."
After reviewing the District Court's findings and conclusions,
the Court of Appeals held:
"[W]ithout strong evidence that the relationship in question is
or will be abusive, the connection between permitting the desired
correspondence or marriage and the subsequent commission of a crime
caused thereby is simply too tenuous
to justify denial of
those constitutionally protected rights. As to the security
concerns, we think the prison officials' authority to open and read
all prisoner mail is sufficient to meet the problem of illegal
777 F.2d 1307, 1315-1316 (CA8 1985) (emphasis added).
Page 482 U. S. 105
The Court of Appeals' affirmance of the District Court thus
ultimately rests upon a conclusion with which I fully agree: absent
a showing that prison officials would be unable to anticipate and
avoid any security problems associated with the inmate-to-inmate
mail that would result from application of the correspondence rule
as it is written and as enforced at other Missouri prisons, the
total ban at Renz found by the District Court offends the First
The ostensible breadth of the Court of Appeals' opinion
] furnishes no
license for this Court to reverse with another unnecessarily broad
holding. Moreover, even under the Court's newly minted standard,
the findings of the District Court that were upheld by the Court of
Appeals clearly dictate affirmance of the judgment below.
Without explicitly disagreeing with any of the District Court's
findings of fact, this Court rejects the trial judge's conclusion
that the total ban on correspondence between inmates at Renz and
unrelated inmates in other correctional facilities was
"unnecessarily sweeping" or, to use the language the Court seems to
prefer, was an "exaggerated response" to the security problems
predicted by petitioner's expert witnesses. Instead, the Court
bases its holding upon its own highly selective use of factual
The reasons the Court advances in support of its conclusion
include: (1) speculation about possible "gang problems," escapes,
and secret codes, ante
at 482 U. S. 91
(2) the fact that the correspondence regulation "does not deprive
prisoners of all means of expression," ante
482 U. S. 92
and (3) testimony indicating
Page 482 U. S. 106
"that it would be impossible to read every piece of
inmate-to-inmate correspondence," ante
at 482 U. S. 93
None of these reasons has a sufficient basis in the record to
support the Court's holding on the mail regulation.
Speculation about the possible adverse consequences of allowing
inmates in different institutions to correspond with one another is
found in the testimony of three witnesses: William Turner, the
Superintendent of Renz Correctional Center; Sally Halford, the
Director of the Kansas Correctional Institution at Lansing; and
David Blackwell, the former Director of the Division of Adult
Institutions of the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Superintendent Turner was unable to offer proof that prohibiting
inmate-to-inmate correspondence prevented the formation or
dissemination of escape plots. He merely asserted that the mail
regulation assisted him in his duties to maintain security at Renz
"[f]rom the standpoint that we don't have escapes, we don't have
the problems that are experienced in other institutions." 2 Tr. 75.
Nor did the Superintendent's testimony establish that permitting
such correspondence would create a security risk; he could only
surmise that the mail policy would inhibit communications between
institutions in the early stages of an uprising. Id.
76. The Superintendent's testimony is entirely consistent with the
District Court's conclusion that the correspondence regulation was
an exaggerated response to the potential gang problem at Renz.
Page 482 U. S. 107
Neither of the outside witnesses had any special knowledge of
conditions at Renz. Ms. Halford had reviewed the prison's rules and
regulations relevant to this case, had discussed the case with
Superintendent Turner, and had visited Renz for "a couple of
hours." 3 id.
at 146. Mr. Blackwell was charged with the
overall management of Missouri's adult correctional facilities, and
did not make daily decisions concerning the inmate correspondence
permitted at Renz. Id.
at 259-260. He was "not sure" if he
was specifically familiar with the policy at Renz that an inmate is
allowed to correspond with inmates of other institutions only if
they are members of the inmate's immediate family. 4 id.
Neither of them, and indeed, no other witness, even mentioned
the possibility of the use of secret codes by inmates. The Kansas
witness testified that Kansas followed a policy of "open
correspondence. . . . An inmate can write to whomever they please."
at 158. She identified two problems that might
result from that policy. First, in the preceding year, a male
inmate had escaped from a minimum security area and helped a female
inmate to escape and remain at large for over a week. The witness
speculated that they must have used the mails to plan their escape.
The trial judge discounted this testimony, because there was no
proof that this or any other escape had been discussed in
at 158-159. Second, the Kansas witness
suggested that a ban on inmate correspondence would frustrate the
development of a "gang problem." Id.
at 160. In view of
her acknowledgment that no gang problem had developed in Kansas
despite its open correspondence rule, id.
Page 482 U. S. 108
158, the trial judge presumably also attached little weight to
this prediction. Indeed, there is a certain irony in the fact that
the Kansas expert witness was unable to persuade her superiors in
Kansas to prohibit inmate-to-inmate correspondence, id.
168, yet this Court apparently finds no reason to discount her
speculative testimony. [Footnote
The Missouri witness, Mr. Blackwell, also testified that one
method of trying to discourage the organization of "gangs" of
prisoners with ethnic or religious similarities is "by restricting
at 267. He did not testify, however,
that a total ban on inmate-to-inmate correspondence was an
appropriate response to the potential gang problem. Indeed, he
stated that the State's policy did not include a "carte
" denial of such correspondence, [Footnote 7
] and he did not even know that Renz was
enforcing such a total ban. [Footnote 8
] His assertion that an open correspondence
Page 482 U. S. 109
policy would pose security problems was backed only by
"[A]: . . . I am sure that there are some inmates at Renz who
would write other inmates at other facilities in an illegitimate
fashion. I also feel certain that there is more of a probability
that they would be writing about things other than just sound
positive letter writing, given the nature of the offenders at
"Q: What percentage of the [mail] inmate-to-inmate from Renz
Correctional Center have you personally read?"
"A: Very, very little."
"Q: So you are basically speculating about what inmates might
Quite clearly, Mr. Blackwell's estimate of the problems
justifying some restrictions on inmate-to-inmate correspondence
provides no support for the Renz policy that he did not even know
about and that did not conform to the more liberal policy
applicable to other institutions in which more serious offenders
are incarcerated. [Footnote 9
As the District Court concluded, petitioners
"failed to demonstrate that the needs of Renz are sufficiently
different to justify greater censorship than is applied by other
586 F. Supp. at 596.
Page 482 U. S. 110
The Court also relies on the fact that the inmates at Renz were
not totally deprived of the opportunity to communicate with the
outside world. This observation is simply irrelevant to the
question whether the restrictions that were enforced were
unnecessarily broad. Moreover, an even-handed acceptance of this
sort of argument would require upholding the Renz marriage
regulation -- which the Court quite properly invalidates -- because
that regulation also could have been even more restrictive.
The Court's final reason for concluding that the Renz
prohibition on inmate-to-inmate correspondence is reasonable is its
belief that it would be "impossible" to read all such
correspondence sent or received by the inmates at Renz. No such
finding of impossibility was made by the District Court, nor would
it be supported by any of the findings that it did make. The record
tells us nothing about the total volume of inmate mail sent or
received at Renz; much less does it indicate how many letters are
sent to, or received from, inmates at other institutions. As the
State itself observed at oral argument about the volume of
"The difficulty with our position in the case is, since we had
never permitted [mail between inmates], we didn't have an idea
except to say that -- you know, except that we had 8,000 inmates,
and we figured that they would write."
Tr. of Oral Arg. 14.
The testimony the Court does cite to support its conclusion that
reviewing inmate-to-inmate mail would be an insurmountable task was
provided by Mr. Blackwell and Ms. Halford. Mr. Blackwell testified
that "[t]here is no way we can read all the mail, nor would we want
to . . . it is impossible." 4 Tr. 41-43. [Footnote 10
] Ms. Halford gave similar testimony,
Page 482 U. S. 111
but again she was referring to "all incoming mail," not to
inmate-to-inmate correspondence and, of course, her testimony
related to Kansas, not to the relatively small facility at Renz.
] In short, the
evidence in the record is plainly
Page 482 U. S. 112
insufficient to support the Court's de novo
impossibility. [Footnote 13
It does, however, adequately support this finding by the District
Court that the Court ignores:
"14. The staff at Renz has been able to scan and control
outgoing and incoming mail, including inmate-to-inmate
586 F. Supp. at 592. Because the record contradicts the
conclusion that the administrative burden of screening all
inmate-to-inmate mail would be unbearable, an outright ban is
intolerable. The blanket prohibition enforced at Renz is not only
an "excessive response" to any legitimate security concern; it is
inconsistent with a consensus of expert opinion -- including Kansas
correctional authorities -- that is far more reliable than the
speculation to which this Court accords deference. [Footnote 14
The contrasts between the Court's acceptance of the challenge to
the marriage regulation as overbroad and its rejection of the
challenge to the correspondence rule are striking
Page 482 U. S. 113
and puzzling. [Footnote
] The Court inexplicably expresses different views about the
security concerns common to prison marriages and prison mail. In
the marriage context, expert speculation about the security
problems associated with "love triangles" is summarily rejected,
while in the mail context speculation about the potential "gang
problem" and the possible use of codes by prisoners receives
virtually total deference. Moreover, while the Court correctly
dismisses as a defense to the marriage rule the speculation that
the inmate's spouse, once released from incarceration, would
attempt to aid the inmate in escaping, [Footnote 16
] the Court grants virtually total credence
to similar speculation about escape plans concealed in letters.
In addition, the Court disregards the same considerations it
relies on to invalidate the marriage regulation when it turns to
the mail regulation. The marriage rule is said to sweep too broadly
because it is more restrictive than the routine practices at other
Missouri correctional institutions, but the mail rule at Renz is
not an "exaggerated response" even though it is more restrictive
than practices in the remainder of the State. The Court finds the
rehabilitative value of marriage apparent, but dismisses the value
of corresponding with a friend who is also an inmate for the reason
that communication with the outside world is not totally
prohibited. The Court relies on the District Court's finding that
the marriage regulation operated on the basis of "excessive
Page 482 U. S. 114
toward female inmates, ante
at 482 U. S. 99
but rejects the same court's factual findings on the correspondence
regulation. Unfathomably, while rejecting the Superintendent's
concerns about love triangles as an insufficient and invalid basis
for the marriage regulation, the Court apparently accepts the same
concerns as a valid basis for the mail regulation. [Footnote 17
Page 482 U. S. 115
In pointing out these inconsistencies, I do not suggest that the
Court's treatment of the marriage regulation is flawed; as I
stated, I concur fully in that part of its opinion. I do suggest
that consistent application of the Court's reasoning necessarily
leads to a finding that the mail regulation applied at Renz is
To the extent that this Court affirms the judgment of the Court
of Appeals, I concur in its opinion. I respectfully dissent from
the Court's partial reversal of that judgment on the basis of its
own selective forays into the record. When all
Page 482 U. S. 116
the language about deference and security is set to one side,
the Court's erratic use of the record to affirm the Court of
Appeals only partially may rest on an unarticulated assumption that
the marital state is fundamentally different from the exchange of
mail in the satisfaction, solace, and support it affords to a
confined inmate. Even if such a difference is recognized in
literature, history, or anthropology, the text of the Constitution
more clearly protects the right to communicate than the right to
marry. In this case, both of these rights should receive
constitutional recognition and protection.
The Court's rather open-ended "reasonableness" standard makes it
much too easy to uphold restrictions on prisoners' First Amendment
rights on the basis of administrative concerns and speculation
about possible security risks, rather than on the basis of evidence
that the restrictions are needed to further an important
governmental interest. Judge Kaufman's opinion in Abdul Wali v.
754 F.2d 1015, 1033 (CA2 1985), makes a more careful
attempt to strike a fair balance between legitimate penological
concerns and the well-settled proposition that inmates do not give
up all constitutional rights by virtue of incarceration.
The Court cites portions of the trial transcript and the
brief filed by the State of Texas,
at 482 U. S. 91
482 U. S. 93
but completely ignores the findings of fact that were made by the
District Court and that bind appellate courts unless clearly
erroneous. Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 52(a). The Court does not, and could,
not deem these particular findings clearly erroneous.
, 691 (WD Mo.1984).
The Court of Appeals may have used unnecessarily sweeping
language in its opinion:
"We conclude that the exchange of inmate-to-inmate mail is not
presumptively dangerous nor inherently inconsistent with legitimate
penological objectives. We therefore affirm the district court's
application of the Martinez
strict scrutiny standard and
its decision finding the Renz correspondence rule
777 F.2d at 1313.
Superintendent Turner had not experienced any problem with gang
warfare at Renz. 2 Tr. 117. He had not found any correspondence
between gang members coming into Renz. Id.
at 118. He also
conceded that it would be possible to screen out correspondence
that posed the danger of leading to gang warfare:
"Q: Is there any reason that you could not read correspondence
from other institutions to determine if these people were writing
about gang warfare or something like that?"
"A: I think from the standpoint of the dictates of the
department and, of course, the dictates of the court, I could if
there was a problem. From the standpoint of dealing with these
people individually or personally, no. It would be a problem."
"Q: Now, let's limit it to people who you suspect might be
involved in gang warfare, for example. Do you have any reason to
say it would be impossible to read all the mail of those particular
"A: Those that we know of that have been identified, no, it
wouldn't be impossible."
There is a further irony. While Missouri ostensibly does not
have sufficient resources to permit and screen inmate-to-inmate
mail, Kansas apparently lacks sufficient resources to ban it. Ms.
Halford testified that open correspondence was not abrogated in the
Kansas correctional system, despite security concerns, because her
superiors felt that it was
"too much of an effort to restrict it, that it tied up staff to
send out all forms to the various and sundry institutions. So I
think we're all basically in agreement that, even though it is a
problem to have open correspondence, the reason that we don't do it
is simply staff time."
"Q. Those inmates who are allowed to write, you do not find it
necessary to stop their correspondence as a matter of course; isn't
"A. No, we don't stop it as a matter of course, and we don't
authorize it as a matter of course. There is no carte
approval or denial at any facility. It is done on a
case-by-case individual basis, and would have to be."
"Q. Let me refer specifically to inmate-to-inmate. Are you
saying there is no carte blanche
inmate-to-inmate, or the inmates aren't told that at Renz
"A. The Division policy is not carte blanche
inmate-to-inmate, or to approve it."
"Q. You do know that is the rule at Renz that they cannot write
to other institutions unless the inmate is a relative?"
"A. I am not certain that that is the rule, no."
"Q. Let me hand you Plaintiffs' Exhibit B, excuse me,
Defendants' Exhibit B. I don't have the plaintiffs' number. This is
in evidence. It is the inmate orientation manual, February, 1983. I
direct your attention to the paragraph that says correspondence
with inmates of other institutions is permitted with immediate
family members only."
"Now, were you familiar with that being the policy at Renz
"A. I am not sure if I was specifically or not."
At the time of trial, the Renz Correctional Center contained
both male and female prisoners of varying security level
classifications. Most of the female inmates were medium and maximum
security offenders, while most of the male inmates were minimum
security offenders. 777 F.2d 1307, 1308 (CA8 1985).
"Q. The question was do you realize the plaintiffs in this case
accept the rights of the Division of Corrections to read all their
mail if the Division wants to?"
"A. There is no way we can read all the mail, nor would we want
4 Tr. 41.
"Q. Let me hand you Exhibit No. 3, sir, the mail and visiting
rule for the Department of Corrections, specifically concerning
inmate mail signed by you."
"I direct your attention to paragraph 1(C), outgoing letters
will not be sealed by the inmate. And further down in the
paragraph, all letters may be inspected in the mail room and
examined for contraband, escape plots, forgery, fraud, and other
"Now, tell me, sir, how do you examine a letter for an escape
plot without reading it?"
"A. We do not read mail. This does not say mail will be read.
The only time we read a letter is when we have reason to believe,
for example, that an escape is being planned. [W]hen a letter is
being planned, there is no way we want to or know to read all
inmate mail. It is impossible."
There was no record indication of the amount of correspondence
between inmates that would occur if it were permitted. Mr.
Blackwell stated only that, in his opinion,
"if we do allow inmates to write other inmates pretty much at
will, the vast majority will be writing one another, at least one
other offender in another institution. I think it is obvious what
it will do to mailroom load."
"[I]n Kansas we have, our rules and regulations allow us to read
all incoming mail. Due to the volume of mail, that is absolutely
impossible to do." 3 id.
The average population at Renz in the 1983 fiscal year was 270.
American Correctional Assn., Juvenile and Adult
Correctional Departments, Institutions, Agencies, and Paroling
Authorities 214 (1984).
When Ms. Halford was asked why the prison officials did not read
all of the inmate mail, she gave this response:
"A. To begin with, it's very boring reading. Another thing, I
think it's a poor use of staff time. If I get more staff in, I
would like to have them doing something more important than reading
inmate mail. That seems to me to be kind of a waste of time."
Earl Englebrecht testified that, at Renz, he scanned the
contents of all approved incoming mail from other institutions, and
that this task and scanning some outgoing mail together took
approximately one hour a day. 5 id.
at 97, 99. He could
not indicate with any certainty the additional screening burden
that more frequent inmate-to-inmate correspondence would impose on
him and on the mail room. Id.
at 102. The testimony of
these two witnesses is hardly consistent with the Court's
assumption that it would be "impossible" to read the portion of the
correspondence that is addressed to, or received from, inmates in
The Court's speculation, ante
at 482 U. S. 88
482 U. S. 93
about the ability of prisoners to use codes is based on a
suggestion in an amicus
curiae brief, see
for State of Texas as Amicus Curiae
7-9, and is totally
unsupported by record evidence.
ABA Standards for Criminal Justice 23-6.1,
Commentary, p. 23-76 (2d ed.1980) ("[P]risoners can write at any
length they choose, using any language they desire, to
correspondents of their selection, including present or former
prisoners, with no more controls than those which govern the public
at large"). The American Correctional Association has set forth the
"current standards deemed appropriate by detention facility
managers and recognized organizations representing corrections."
ACA, Standards for Adult Local Detention Facilities xiii (2d
ed.1981). Standard 2-5328 requires clear and convincing evidence to
justify "limitations for reasons of public safety or facility order
and security" on the volume, "length, language, content or source"
of mail which an inmate may send or receive. Id.
The Court's bifurcated treatment of the mail and marriage
regulations leads to the absurd result that an inmate at Renz may
marry another inmate, but may not carry on the courtship leading to
the marriage by corresponding with him or her beforehand, because
he or she would not then be an "immediate family member."
Explaining why the request of inmate Diana Finley to be married
to inmate William Quillam was denied, Superintendent Turner
"If he gets out, then we have got some security problems. . . .
The threat, if a man gets out of the penitentiary and he is married
to her, and he wants his wife with him, there is very little that
we can do to stop an escape from that institution because we don't
have the security, sophisticated security, like a maximum security
1 Tr. 185-186. See also id.
One of Superintendent Turner's articulated reasons for
preventing one female inmate from corresponding with a male inmate
closely tracks the "love triangle" rationale advanced for the
"Q: Let's take Ms. Flowers. Do you know of any reason why she
should not be allowed to write to Mr. Barks?"
"A: She has two other men. One she wants to get married to,
another man that she was involved with at Renz resides with Mr.
"Q: Let me ask you this. You have mentioned on two or three
occasions that people want to get married to one man or the other.
Is it your understanding that the only possible relationship
between a woman and a man is one of intending to get married?"
"A: Well, when they speak of love and want to marry two people,
I think that one of them is going to be cut short."
at 237-238. The Superintendent later elaborated on
"Q: Now you have given an example of a problem that, in your
opinion, justifies restrictions on correspondence as being, say,
two men who were corresponding with a particular woman. Would it
also be possible to call the two men in and have a chat with them
in your office and try to resolve that between them?"
"A: I don't see where that is necessary in my position."
at 116-117. The paternalistic enforcement of the
correspondence rule to "protect" female inmates prevents them from
exchanging letters with more than one male inmate. Assuming a woman
has received permission to correspond with a man:
"Q: Now, what if the female inmate finds somebody new in the
institution, and that person gets [pa]roled, can she then write to
the new fellow?"
"A: Then we have two situations then."
"Q: And, therefore, she cannot?"
"A: I would say that would be a positive [triggering security
concerns] situation. It wouldn't be a wholesome situation, no."
"Q: And suppose she comes to you and says, I don't want to write
this old fellow anymore, I want to write to the new fellow. Is she
then allowed to write to the new fellow?"
"A: Then we still have a problem."
"Q: Once an inmate makes a decision to write to -- once a female
inmate makes a decision to write to another male inmate, then she
can't write to anybody?"
"A: You keep saying females. We have the same situation with the
male, too, that could exist."
David Blackwell testified along the same lines:
"If, for example, a male offender was believed to be in love
with a female offender and another male offender wants to cause him
some difficulty, he can start a rumor or confront the man with her
seeing someone else or corresponding with someone else,
and it's caused a variety of security problems by way of love
triangles and situations such as that."
at 271 (emphasis added).
Donald Wyrick, Director of Adult Institutions, Missouri
Department of Corrections, similarly testified on the security
considerations raised by women writing men at other prisons:
"Well, many times love affairs develop, then the inmate inside .
. . becomes extremely worried about the female inmate, he thinks
she is messing around with somebody else, all those kind of things.
He becomes agitated, worried, and frustrated, this type thing. In
my professional opinion, that could cause him to do bad things. It
might even cause him to explode and hurt someone or attempt to
Having found a constitutional violation, the District Court has
broad discretion in fashioning an appropriate remedy. Cf.
United States v. Paradise, 480 U. S. 149
480 U. S.
-156, n. 4 (1987) (STEVENS, J., concurring in
judgment). The difficulties that a correspondence policy is likely
to impose on prison officials screening inmate-to-inmate mail bear
on the shaping of an appropriate remedy. It is improper, however,
to rely on speculation about these difficulties to obliterate
effective judicial review of state actions that abridge a
prisoner's constitutional right to send and receive mail.