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The Supreme Court and Corrections  
The Landmark Cases That Have Shaped America’s Prisons and Jails

By William C. Collins

A note from the author ...

"This book examines in detail twenty significant Supreme Court cases dealing with prisons and jails, and includes briefer discussions of dozens of other decisions that either preceded or followed on the “top twenty” and that, cumulatively, have shaped correctional practices in important ways for over 40 years. For all its remaining faults, the American correctional facility today is safer, more humane, professionally staffed and managed, and responsive to the public than ever before. Prisons are guided by written policies that speak to the basic rights of both staff and inmates, and include procedures for ensuring those rights. These are imperfect safeguards, to be sure, but a vast improvement over practices that once prevailed. The improvements began in the 1970s, not so much because correctional administrators suddenly saw the light, but rather because the courts ordered it. Law suits filed in federal courts, usually brought by inmates against prison officials, compelled judges to look closely at what went on in prisons and to measure those conditions and practices against the constitutional principles upon which this country is, or ought to be, governed.

"In Chapter 1, we look at what the courts have said about the rights of inmates to have their grievances heard and adjudicated in a court of law. The key “access to the courts” cases are Bounds v. Smith and Lewis v. Casey, but many other cases have also contributed to the law and we briefly summarize them here. The second part of Chapter 1 examines the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which attempted to roll back some of the hard-won access prisoners had gained to petition the federal courts, and also reviews cases challenging PLRA. Chapter 2 looks at cases involving the Fourteenth Amendment and due process, and at the question of what a “liberty interest” is in a prison setting. Inmates gained an important victory in 1974 in Wolff v. McDonnell, and we examine that case at length. Wolff dealt with inmate discipline and the need for due process, but it didn’t resolve all of the issues raised in this area, and we look at some important cases after Wolff, including ones challenging prisoner transfers, and involuntary medication and mental health placements.

"Chapter 3 is devoted to an issue that arises in a great number of inmate cases: how should a court weigh a situation where prison rules or practices conflict with and limit an inmate’s constitutional rights. What institutional interests justify restricting an inmate’s rights and how strong must those interests be in a particular case? The Court’s position has evolved over the years. Procunier v. Martinez and Turner v. Safley are the key cases on point. This chapter also looks at what happened when Congress stepped in to involve itself in inmate rights with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its successor, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

"Chapter 4 deals with searches. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures” and is a bedrock of criminal law, but the courts have ruled that prisoners have far less protection under the Fourth Amendment than the general public. We examine the reasons why in Block v. Rutherford, Hudson v. Palmer, and Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders.

"Chapter 5 examines the Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. “Cruel and unusual punishment” is one of the most familiar phrases in the Bill of Rights, and the one most obviously relevant to prisons, but its judicial history has had many unexpected twists and turns. The courts have recognized two principle ways in which prisons and jails can be found to have violated the Eighth Amendment—through the unjustified use of excessive force, and through conditions arising as the result of profound and willful neglect, or what the Supreme Court calls “deliberate indifference.” The roster of important cases on cruel and unusual punishment is the most extensive of all the constitutional issues in this book. The major cases on conditions of confinement are Estelle v. Gamble, Bell v. Wolfish, Rhodes v. Chapman, Farmer v. Brennan, Wilson v. Seiter, and Brown v. Plata. The most important “use of force” cases are Whitley v. Albers, Hudson v. McMillian, and Kingsley v. Hendrickson. In Kingsley the Court used the Fourth Amendment to review a use of force against a pretrial detainee, asking if force amounted to an unreasonable “seizure?

"Chapter 6 reviews two cases in which the Court ruled that segregating prisoners by race violated the Fourteenth Amendment while Chapter 7 reviews Supreme Court decisions on matters of statutory law and procedure not arising directly from constitutional claims, including 1983 issues, pro se pleadings, qualified immunity, consent decrees, and discrimination suits. A final brief “Afterword” offers some closing thoughts about the future.

"The Supreme Court’s involvement with corrections was late in coming, but when the dam broke in the early 1970s, a flood of important cases flowed through the system. This book looks at those cases individually, and measures their overall impact on America’s prisons and jails. The effects have been a largely positive and, as we shall see, these cases have made a major contribution to shaping corrections while at the same time illuminating important aspects of our country’s approach to crime and punishment, for good and ill."—Bill Collins

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Related Publications:
Practical Guide to Inmate Discipline, 2nd Edition
Management and Supervision of Jail Inmates with Mental Disorders, 2nd Edition

 

 

 

Table of Contents (PDF)
Format: Hardcover Book
© MMXIX 320 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-939083-21-0
Price: US $135.95
Product Code: SC20

 

 


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