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Sixth Circuit Affirms Michigan Jail's No-Contact-Visiting Rule

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to contact visitation.

While in pre-trial status at Saginaw County Jail, Michigan in 1975, plaintiff James O’Bryan, et al, challenged, among other issues, the Saginaw County Jail’s termination of contact visitation in favor of barrier visitation. The county jail asserted contact visitation presented security problems and was less cost effective than barrier visitation.

The case went between district court and court of appeals several times, both sides appealing negative judgments. The instant case at bar with the Sixth Circuit addressed the two remaining issues: termination of the contact visitation policy and the right to receive books and publications from any source. Plaintiffs settled on the second point.

The court relied heavily on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling rendered only moths before, Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 104 S. Ct. 3227, 82 L. Ed 2d 438 (1984), in deciding this case. Stressing the due process clause that forbids punishment as applied to pre-trial detainees since such individuals have not been convicted of a crime, the Supreme Court held in Rutherford that the jail’s policy of barrier visitation did not constitute punishment.

Realizing that contact visits posed a continuous security issue, the Court held that jail policy was more reasonably related to security than punishment. The Supreme Court expressed a sentiment to avoid imposing management decisions on those persons charged with and trained for managing institutional administration and security. Citing Rutherford throughout, the court held that the district court over-valued the scope of judicial inquiry associated with an underlying case cited therein and that they should have recognized the many factors that counseled against contact visits and ended the inquiry.

The court of appeals answered the plaintiff’s assertion that contact visits had caused only minor security problems with the observation that extraordinary security problems not yet surfacing was insufficient to show that the jail rule constituted an exaggerated response.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment for the defendants. See: O’Bryan v. County of Saginaw, Mich., 741 F.2d 283 (6th Cir., 1984) Case No 82-1383.

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Related legal case

O’Bryan v. County of Saginaw, Mich.