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Banks v. Beard

February 25, 2005


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania District Court Judge: The Honorable Terrence F. McVerry (D.C. No. 01-cv-1956)

Before: Alito, Fuentes, and Rosenn, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, Circuit Judge


Argued on October 22, 2003


Ronald Banks, on behalf of himself and all other Level 2 prisoners confined in the Long Term Segregation Unit ("LTSU") of the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh ("SCI Pittsburgh"), challenges the constitutionality of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' ("DOC") policy banning access to newspapers, magazines and photographs for Level 2 inmates, arguing that the policy violates the prisoners' free speech rights under the First Amendment.

The District Court granted summary judgment to the defendant and upheld the policy as reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. We disagree and therefore will reverse.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The LTSU was established at SCI Pittsburgh in April 2000 as a place to confine a small population of inmates*fn1 which the DOC views, because of their history of behavior in prison, as too disruptive, violent or problematic to house elsewhere.*fn2 Inmates are classified at "Level 2" when admitted to the Unit, must remain there a minimum of 90 days, and may remain at Level 2 indefinitely. The length of time a prisoner may spend in the LTSU is open-ended and subject to the discretion of prison personnel.

Department policy prohibits Level 2 prisoners from receiving newspapers or magazines directly from the publisher, from the prison library, or from any other source for the duration of their confinement at Level 2 status unless the publication is religious or legal in nature. Individual articles clipped from publications are prohibited, unless they relate to the inmate or his family. Also prohibited is the possession or receipt of photographs of spouses, other family members, or friends.

Other DOC rules which govern life at LTSU Level 2 prohibit inmates from having radios or televisions, permit phone calls only in emergencies or when related to inmates' legal representation, limit inmates to one visit with an immediate family member per month, and require inmates to remain in their cells 23 hours a day, one inmate to a cell. Inmates are permitted, however, religious or legal publications and paperback books that can be ordered from the prison library. To review legal materials, one LTSU inmate at a time may be let out of his cell and is escorted from it to a "mini law library" in hand and leg irons by two corrections officers. (App. 11)

The policy challenged here is unique in the state prison system, even among other segregated inmates. Level 1 LTSU inmates are permitted one subscription newspaper in their cells which can be exchanged on a one-for-one basis and are also permitted five subscription magazines at any given time.*fn3 Department policy also authorizes Special Management Unit ("SMU") inmates (another class of segregated inmates identified as being among the most difficult inmates in the system) to have various numbers of subscription newspapers, magazines and photographs in their cells, depending on their classification level. (App. 77) Similarly, dangerous inmates who are segregated in the Department's regular Restrictive Housing Unit on Administrative Custody status for security reasons are permitted one subscription newspaper in their cells which can be exchanged on a one-for-one basis, as well as subscription magazines and up to 10 photographs.

Deputy Superintendent Joel Dickson, who supervises the LTSU, testified in his deposition that the prohibition serves several penological purposes, which were reiterated by the defendant in its briefs. First, and emphasized by Dickson as most important, is behavior modification and rehabilitation. Dickson explained that in Level 2, inmates are deprived of certain privileges to create an incentive to comply with prison rules and thereby be removed to Level 1 and eventually to the general population. Among Level 1 inmates, the prospect of having the privileges denied discourages backsliding. Also, Dickson explained that as inmates improve their behavior to earn privileges, they become better integrated members of prison society or, if released, better members of free society and "more productive citizen[s]." (App. 111) Second, the less material Level 2 prisoners have in their cells, the easier it is for correctional offices to detect concealed contraband and provide security. Third, newspapers and magazines can be rolled up and used as blow guns or spears, can fuel cell fires, or can be used as crude tools to catapult feces at the guards.

Plaintiff Ronald Banks filed the Complaint in this action on October 18, 2001. Seeking equitable and declaratory relief, the Complaint challenged the constitutionality of the DOC policy that denies Level 2 inmates access to newspapers, magazines and photographs of family members and friends. The inmates argued that, under Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), the policy offends their right to free speech either because it bears no rational connection to any legitimate penological interest or because it is an exaggerated response to such an interest. A motion for class certification was filed and granted on March 22, 2002. After discovery was completed, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment in September of 2002.

On November 15, 2002, Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell recommended granting summary judgment to the DOC. The recommendation reasoned that the Turner factors weighed in the DOC's favor and that the policy was rationally related to, and furthered the legitimate penological interests of, institutional security and prisoner rehabilitation. Despite Banks' objections, on January 10, 2003 the magistrate's recommendation and reasoning were adopted by order of the District Court.

The District Court reasoned first that the policy is not an impermissible First Amendment violation because it is rationally related to the legitimate and interrelated penological interests in rehabilitation and security. It encourages compliance with prison rules and deprives especially incorrigible prisoners of material from which they can fashion crude weapons or feed cell fires.

Second, the District Court held that the policy is not an exaggerated response to the stated penological concerns. The court agreed with the DOC that inmates can meaningfully exercise the burdened First Amendment rights by qualifying with good behavior for promotion to Level 1 or by corresponding with family and friends. Furthermore, given the particular intractability of Level 2 inmates, any further accommodation of their rights would impose costs that cannot be characterized as only de minimus. *fn4 Banks timely appealed the District Court's grant of summary judgment.

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

The District Court had original jurisdiction over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1343 because the claim asserts a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This Court has appellate jurisdiction over the order of the District Court granting summary judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review de novo the District Court's decision to grant the DOC's motion for summary judgment. See Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 248 (3d Cir. 2003). In reviewing the record, we view the evidence and any inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and resolve all factual conflicts in its favor. We reverse the District Court's decision where there are genuine issues of material fact precluding judgment as a matter of law. See Suders v. Easton, 325 F.3d 432, 440 (3d Cir. 2003).

III. Discussion

A. The Turner ...

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