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U.S. Supreme Court

Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119 (1977)

Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, Inc.

No. 75-1874

Argued April 19, 1977

Decided June 23, 1977

433 U.S. 119


Appellee prisoners' labor union brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that its First Amendment and equal protection rights were violated by regulations promulgated by the North Carolina Department of Correction that prohibited prisoners from soliciting other inmates to join the Union and barred Union meetings and bulk mailings concerning the Union from outside sources. A three-judge District Court, which noted that appellants had "permitted" inmates to join the Union, granted substantial injunctive relief, having concluded that prohibiting inmate-to-inmate solicitation "border[ed] on the irrational," and that, since bulk mailings to and meetings with inmates by the Jaycees, Alcoholics Anonymous, and, in one institution, the Boy Scouts (hereafter collectively "service organizations") had been permitted, appellants, absent a showing of detriment to penological objectives, "may not pick and choose depending on [their] approval or disapproval of the message or purpose of the group."


1. The challenged regulations do not violate the First Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth. Pp. 433 U. S. 125-133.

(a) The fact of confinement and the needs of the penal institution impose limitations on constitutional rights, including those derived from the First Amendment, Pell v. Procunier, 417 U. S. 817, 417 U. S. 822, perhaps the most obvious of which is associational rights that the First Amendment protects outside of prison walls. Pp. 433 U. S. 125-126.

(b) The District Court overstated what appellants' concession as to true membership entailed -- appellants permitted membership in the Union (which involved no dues or obligations) because of the reasonable assumption that the individual could believe what he chose to believe, but appellants never acquiesced in, or permitted, group activity by the Union, and the ban on inmate solicitation and group meetings was rationally related to the reasonable objectives of prison administration. Pp. 433 U. S. 126-129.

(c) First Amendment speech rights are barely implicated here, mail

Page 433 U. S. 120

rights themselves not being involved, but only the cost savings through bulk mailings. Pp. 433 U. S. 130-131.

(d) The prohibition on inmate-to-inmate solicitation does not unduly abridge inmates' free speech rights. If the prison officials are otherwise entitled to control organized union activity within the confines of a prison, the solicitation ban is not impermissible under the First Amendment, for such a prohibition is both reasonable and necessary. Pell v. Procunier, supra at 417 U. S. 822. Pp. 433 U. S. 131-132.

(e) First Amendment associational rights are also not unduly abridged here. Appellants' conclusion that the presence of a prisoners' union would be detrimental to prison order and security has not been conclusively shown to be wrong, and the regulations drafted were no broader than necessary to meet the perceived threat of group meetings and organizational activity to such order and security. Pp. 433 U. S. 132-133.

2. Appellants' prohibition against the receipt by and distribution to the inmates of bulk mail from the Union as well as the prohibition of Union meetings among inmates whereas the service organizations were given bulk mailing and meeting rights, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. The prison does not constitute a "public forum," and appellants demonstrated a rational basis for distinguishing between the Union (which occupied an adversary role and espoused a purpose illegal under North Carolina law) and the service organizations (which performed rehabilitation services). Pp. 433 U. S. 133-136.

409 F.Supp. 937, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 433 U. S. 136. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 433 U. S. 138. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 433 U. S. 139.

Page 433 U. S. 121

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