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Notice Required When Mail Withheld For Disciplinary Reasons

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a prisoner in
disciplinary detention must receive written notice of any mail being
temporarily withheld by prison officials.

Leonard Gregory, an Iowa state prisoner, was placed in disciplinary
detention for a prison rule violation. While in detention prison officials
denied certain mail Gregory had requested from several chambers of
commerce. Prison policy at the time was that prisoners in disciplinary
detention could receive only first class mail, and only that which was "of
a personal, legal, or religious nature"; all other mail was held until the
prisoner was released from disciplinary detention. No written notification
was given when mail was withheld. Prisoners were held for a maximum of 60
days in disciplinary detention.

Gregory brough t 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 action against prison officials
alleging that the mail policies violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment
rights. Prison officials argued that "the mail restrictions served to
prevent cellblock fires, facilitate cell searches, and make disciplinary
detention unattractive to inmates."

The U.S. District Court for the District of Iowa, "rejected Gregory's first
amendment claim and his prayer for an award of damages, but granted certain
injunctive relief on procedural due process grounds." Gregory appealed.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding: 1) The prison's argument that the
mail policies served to facilitate cell searches and prevent fires had no
merit as (a) there was no fire threat since prisoners were not allowed to
possess matches, and (b) the quantity of mail a prisoner could accumulate
in his cell at any one time was already restricted.

2) The prison's mail policies did, however, serve to deter prisoners from
violating prison rules.

3) The prison's mail policy was not overly broad or impermissibly
content-oriented as "the policies were not directed at what mail an inmate
could receive, but only at when he could receive it."

4) Due process necessitated the district court's injunction requiring the
prison to give written notice to prisoners when mail was temporarily
withheld, including "the identity of the correspondent, the reason the mail
is being withheld, and the name of the withholding officer."

5) The prison's argument that Gregory could have used the grievance
procedure to "obtain a review of the decision to withhold mail was
inadequate as the grievance procedure offered no meaningful avenue for
independent review since the mail policy stated that "the third floor
supervisor will make the 'final determination' regarding whether mail will
be withheld.; it was the third floor supervisor in the present case who
decided to withhold Gregory's mail in the first place."
See: Gregory v. Auger, 768 F.2d 287 (8th Cit. 1985).

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Related legal case

Gregory v. Auger

Gregory v. Warden Calvin Auger, 768 F.2d 287 (8th Cir. 07/24/1985)


[2] Nos. 84-2191, 84-2228

[3] 768 F.2d 287

[4] July 24, 1985


[6] Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. Honorable Edward J. McManus.


[8] Donald T. McDougall, Iowa City, IA and Bridget Chambers, Student Legal Intern, U. ov (sic) Iowa, Iowa City, IA. for Appellant.

[9] John Parmeter, Des Moines, IA. for Appellee.

[10] Author: Henley

[11] Before HEANEY, Circuit Judge, HENLEY, Senior Circuit Judge, and McMILLIAN, Circuit Judge.

[12] HENLEY, Senior Circuit Judge.

[13] These appeals are from a decision of the district court on Leonard Gregory's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that the Iowa Men's Reformatory's policies restricting the mail privileges of inmates placed temporarily in the disciplinary detention section of the prison were constitutionally infirm. We affirm the decision of the district court.*fn1

[14] Gregory, a Reformatory inmate serving a life sentence, wrote three Iowa chambers of commerce, requesting that he be sent promotional literature about various communities. Before receiving the material, Gregory was placed on disciplinary detention status (DD 1) for sixty days for misbehavior unrelated to this action. At the time, the prison's written policy was that a DD 1 inmate would receive first class mail only; other mail would be stored until the inmate's DD 1 status was upgraded. According to a joint stipulation entered into by the parties, there was also in effect at the time an unwritten policy that DD 1 inmates would receive only the portion of their first class mail which was of a personal, legal, or religious nature.*fn2 A second written rule, not challenged in this suit, limited the amount of mail an inmate could accumulate in his cell.

[15] Gregory received literature from two chambers of commerce without incident. When the material from the third chamber of commerce arrived a prison official orally advised Gregory that that material would be withheld until Gregory's DD 1 status had expired. The earlier mailings were also confiscated. The three pieces of mail (except for certain maps not at issue in this appeal) were returned to Gregory when his DD 1 status was upgraded.

[16] Alleging the mail policies violated the first and fourteenth amendments, Gregory subsequently filed the present lawsuit for damages and injunctive relief against the Warden, the Assistant Warden, and the correctional supervisor who had made the decision to withhold the mail. The case was initially heard before a magistrate; the district court adopted the magistrate's findings and conclusions in full. The district court rejected Gregory's first amendment claim and his prayer for an award of damages, but granted certain injunctive relief on procedural due process grounds. These appeals by both sides followed.

[17] 1. First Amendment

[18] It is settled that prisoners retain all first amendment rights not inconsistent with their status as prisoners or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system. Pell v. Procunier,417 U.S. 817, 822, 41 L. Ed. 2d 495, 94 S. Ct. 2800 (1974). In determining whether a prison's policies or regulations impermissibly impinge on prisoners' retained first amendment rights, courts must (1) determine whether the policies or regulations further an important or substantial governmental interest unrelated to the suppression of expression; and (2) determine whether the limitation of first amendment freedoms is no greater than is necessary or essential to the governmental interest involved. Procunier v. Martinez,416 U.S. 396, 413, 40 L. Ed. 2d 224, 94 S. Ct. 1800 (1974). See also Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545, 548, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447, 99 S. Ct. 1861 (1979). Gregory argues that the mail restrictions here fall afoul of the first amendment because they are overbroad, and because they are content-based. Gregory also argues the district court's contrary conclusions were based on an erroneous allocation of the burden of proof.

[19] At the hearing on these claims, the state defendants indicated the mail restrictions served to prevent cellblock fires, facilitate cell searches, and make disciplinary detention unattractive to inmates. We agree with Gregory that the first two of these purported justifications were insufficient to sustain the policies on the facts of this case. The record indicates cellblock fires have been eliminated entirely in the Reformatory's DD 1 range by new regulations prohibiting inmates from possessing matches. The goal of making cell searches easier is seemingly being achieved by the restriction on the quantity of mail an inmate may accumulate in his cell at any given time.

[20] However, as the district court found, the mail policies were also designed to make disciplinary detention less pleasant, so that inmates would be encouraged to avoid the types of behavior that would lead to their being placed on DD 1 status. While the Supreme Court has expressly reversed judgment regarding the validity of temporary disciplinary prohibitions of an inmate's correspondence, Procunier v. Martinez,416 U.S. at 412 n.12, the Court has also identified preservation of internal order and discipline as one of the central tasks in the maintenance of penal institution. Id. at 412.

[21] We cannot say deterrence of future infractions of prison rules is, under the first amendment, an inappropriate justification for temporarily restricting the rights of inmates to receive certain types of correspondence; nor can we say the regulations in this case failed to serve such a purpose. As the Fifth Circuit has remarked in upholding mail policies almost identical to those before us now,

[22] there can be no doubt . . . that solitary confinement is a disciplinary measure whose very essence is the deprivation of interests the first amendment protects: association with the general prison population and communication with outsiders. To promote the important government interest in maintaining discipline, officials must have available sanctions that impose incremental disadvantages on those already imprisoned. Left free to write to anyone in the world and to receive literature of any kind, a prisoner might find punitive isolation desirable, offering solitude and leisure as an alternative to the ordinary conditions of prison work and life.