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Prisoner Communication Rights

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case brief

Procunier v. Martinez


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Solution Summary

Even with the concept that prison authorities believe that they must read mail in order to evade prisoner escape plans, reading everyone's mail as well as listening to all phone conversations does not justify the intrusion. Monitoring a specific prisoner's mail upon suspicion of an escape plot seems more reasonable than a blanket policy regarding all prisoner mail.

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Procunier v. Martinez

Employees at a Northern California prison screened incoming and out coming mail for prison violations. There was no concrete criteria for employees regarding the opening of the prisoner's mail. Further, when a prison official found a questionable letter, the employee could refuse to mail or deliver the letter and further return it to the sender. The employee could also possibly file a disciplinary report that could lead to suspension of mail privileges. The official could also place a copy of the letter in the prisoner's file where it might be a determining factor for work and housing assignments as well as parole hearings. Prisoners filed a class action suit.

The District Court ruled in favor of the prisoners citing that the regulations were in violation of the 1st Amendment. Appellants argue that the State Court should have abstained from ruling on this matter because this is a federal, not state issue. The appellants cite Cal. Penal Code 2600 (4), which assures prisoners the right to receive books, magazines, and periodicals. The appellants cite that the interpretation of that statute by the state courts might be void or modify the constitutional questions in this case. Appellants further asserted the prerequisite for Abstention doctrine is an ...

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