BLOCK V. RUTHERFORD, 468 U. S. 576 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576 (1984)

Block v. Rutherford

No. 83-317

Argued March 28, 1984

Decided July 3, 1984

468 U.S. 576


Respondents, pretrial detainees at the Los Angeles County Central Jail, brought a class action in Federal District Court against the County Sheriff and other officials, challenging, on due process grounds, the jail's policy of denying pretrial detainees contact visits with their spouses, relatives, children, and friends, and the jail's practice of conducting random, irregular "shakedown" searches of cells while the detainees were away at meals, recreation, or other activities. The District Court sustained the challenges, and ordered that low risk detainees incarcerated for more than a month be allowed contact visits, and that all detainees be allowed to watch searches of their cells if they are in the area when the searches are conducted. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. Where it is alleged that a pretrial detainee has been deprived of liberty without due process, the dispositive inquiry is whether the challenged practice or policy constitutes punishment or is reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U. S. 520. In considering whether a specific practice or policy is "reasonably related" to security interests, courts should play a very limited role, since such considerations are peculiarly within the province and professional expertise of corrections officials. Id. at 441 U. S. 540-541, n. 23. Pp. 468 U. S. 583-585.

2. Here, the Central Jail's blanket prohibition on contact visits is an entirely reasonable, nonpunitive response to legitimate security concerns, consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment. Contact visits invite a host of security problems. They open a detention facility to the introduction of drugs, weapons, and other contraband. Moreover, to expose to others those detainees who, as is often the case, are awaiting trial for serious, violent offenses or have prior convictions carries with it the risks that the safety of innocent individuals will be jeopardized. Totally disallowing contact visits is not excessive in relation to the security and other interests at stake. There are many justifications for denying contact visits entirely, rather than attempting the difficult task of establishing a program of limited visits such as that imposed here. Nothing in the Constitution requires that detainees be allowed contact visits; responsible, experienced administrators have determined, in their sound

Page 468 U. S. 577

discretion, that such visits will jeopardize the security of the facility and other persons. Pp. 468 U. S. 585-589.

3. The Central Jail's practice of conducting random, irregular "shakedown" searches of cells in the absence of the cell occupants is also a reasonable response by the jail officials to legitimate security concerns. Bell v. Wolfish, supra. This is also a matter lodged in the sound discretion of those officials. Pp. 468 U. S. 589-591.

710 F.2d 572, reversed.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 468 U. S. 592. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 468 U. S. 596.

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