Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 4 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 126 (2003)

Opinion of the Court


The population of Michigan's prisons increased in the early 1990's. More inmates brought more visitors, straining the resources available for prison supervision and control. In particular, prison officials found it more difficult to maintain order during visitation and to prevent smuggling or trafficking in drugs. Special problems were encountered with the increase in visits by children, who are at risk of seeing or hearing harmful conduct during visits and must be supervised with special care in prison visitation facilities.

The incidence of substance abuse in the State's prisons also increased in this period. Drug and alcohol abuse by prisoners is unlawful and a direct threat to legitimate objectives of the corrections system, including rehabilitation, the maintenance of basic order, and the prevention of violence in the prisons.

In response to these concerns, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC or Department) revised its prison visitation policies in 1995, promulgating the regulations here at issue. One aspect of the Department's approach was to limit the visitors a prisoner is eligible to receive, in order to decrease the total number of visitors.

Under MDOC's regulations, an inmate may receive visits only from individuals placed on an approved visitor list, except that qualified members of the clergy and attorneys on official business may visit without being listed. Mich. Admin. Code Rule 791.6609(2) (1999); Director's Office Mem. 1995-59 (effective date Aug. 25, 1995). The list may include an unlimited number of members of the prisoner's immediate family and 10 other individuals the prisoner designates, subject to some restrictions. Rule 791.6609(2). Minors under the age of 18 may not be placed on the list unless they are the children, stepchildren, grandchildren, or siblings of the inmate. Rule 791.6609(2)(b); Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. 791.268a (West Supp. 2003). If an inmate's parental rights


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