Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126 (2003)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit

No. 02-94. Argued March 26, 2003—Decided June 16, 2003

Responding to concerns about prison security problems caused by the increasing number of visitors to Michigan's prisons and about substance abuse among inmates, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) promulgated new regulations limiting prison visitation. An inmate may be visited by qualified clergy and attorneys on business and by persons placed on an approved list, which may include an unlimited number of immediate family members and 10 others; minor children are not permitted to visit unless they are the children, stepchildren, grandchildren, or siblings of the inmate; if the inmate's parental rights are terminated, the child may not visit; a child visitor must be accompanied by a family member of the child or inmate or the child's legal guardian; former prisoners are not permitted to visit except that a former prisoner who is an immediate family member of an inmate may visit if the warden approves. Prisoners who commit two substance-abuse violations may receive only clergy and attorneys, but may apply for reinstatement of visitation privileges after two years. Respondents—prisoners, their friends, and family members—filed a 42 U. S. C. 1983 action, alleging that the regulations as they pertain to noncontact visits violate the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court agreed, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed.


1. The fact that the regulations bear a rational relation to legitimate penological interests suffices to sustain them regardless of whether respondents have a constitutional right of association that has survived incarceration. This Court accords substantial deference to the professional judgment of prison administrators, who bear a significant responsibility for defining a corrections system's legitimate goals and determining the most appropriate means to accomplish them. The regulations satisfy each of four factors used to decide whether a prison regulation affecting a constitutional right that survives incarceration withstands constitutional challenge. See Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78, 89-91. First, the regulations bear a rational relationship to a legitimate penological interest. The restrictions on children's visitation are related to MDOC's valid interests in maintaining internal security and

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