Legal exam Essay

Question 1.  In the case of Pell vs. Procunier the media and inmates of a California prison brought a civil rights suit against the corrections department alleging that they had certain rights that had been violated, mainly being the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  The court at first found that the California Department of Corrections manual prohibiting media interview with certain inmates was wrong and determined that the inmates First Amendment freedom of speech rights must be considered.  The court looked at the fact that inmates had access to anyone through writing and were allowed visitor with friend, family, attorneys and clergy that could contact the media.  With them having access, the judge concluded that the California Department of Corrections Manual did not infringe on the inmates freedom of speech.

Because it did not stop media access to gain information available to members of the general public and in fact the media had more access to prisons than the general public, so this did not stop the media’s freedom of the press.  In the final outcome the court reversed the summary judgment for the inmates against the corrections department on the allegation that a corrections regulation violated the inmate’s freedom of speech.  The court affirmed the dismissal of the media’s claim that the regulation violated the media’s freedom of the press. It was determined that the First amendment does not guarantee the press a constitutional right of special access to information that is not available to the general public.

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            With the case Houchins v. KQED the petitioner, the sheriff, filed an appeal that would stop news personnel access to jails, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stopped the injunction and stated that the public and the media had both the first and the fourteenth Amendment right of access to prisons and jails.  The sheriff filed an appeal.  The news personnel wanted access stating the right of public access to prisons and jails was necessary to stop officials from concealing prison conditions from the voters and impairing the public’s right to discuss and criticize the prisons system.  The courts found that the guaranteed freedom of speech did not create special privilege to news personnel.  In the end the courts ruled that the sheriff could deny media access to the jails facilities.  The first or the fourteenth Amendments does not give a right of access to government information or sources of information within the governments’ control (http://lexisnexis.com).

Question 2.  The idea underlying the penitentiary was drawn from religious perspectives.  It thus seems ironic that there would be any conflicts in providing freedom of religion in prisons, but this has indeed been the case.  The early efforts to restore the criminal through penitence and prayer were conducted in small homogeneous communities.  As immigration to America expanded, it became the most heterogeneous nation in the world.  Because the United States was founded on a belief that freedom of worship could not be infringed by the government, the First Amendment addressed those issues.  The issue of the right to practice religious beliefs puts a strain on the prison administrator, who must allow equal protection for all inmates.  But the question of whether the state really grants each inmate “free exercise” simply by ensuring access to a minister of their particular faith is still unsettled.  The discretion of the prison official for allowing religious practice must deal with four justifications before inmates are allowed to practice their religion.  The first and foremost is security and if the practice of their religion causes safety concerns, next if it will help or hinder discipline, costs of any such endeavor to the prison as well as the decision being at the discretion of the prison official.

Question 3.  The concept of the “Test of Reasonableness” is a legal term referring to search and seizure and arrest.  It is when police and officials may take into consideration their training and experience.  Considering the totality of circumstances, a court can approve a warrantless arrest where enough probable cause is present. The Fourth Amendment gives individuals the rights to be secure and protects against unreasonable searches.  But because of the “Test of Reasonableness”, professional experience can be used to evaluate the totality of circumstances when searching or arresting.

The case of Hudson v. Palmer was a case filed by an incarcerated felon that believed his fourth Amendment had been violated by a prison guard when searching his cell.  The Supreme Court held that prison inmates have no legitimate expectation of privacy in their cells and that the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures does not apply to prison cells.  But the U.S. Court of appeals reversed in part some of the decision saying that the inmate had a limited privacy right in his cell that entitled him to protection against searches conducted solely to harass or humiliate him.

 The case of United States v. Edwards had a prisoner wanting a reduction on his sentence reduced because of an amendment to the U.S. Sentencing guidelines Manuals and not his Fourth amendment.  He was denied the motion to modify his sentence because “The appellate court likewise concluded that the amendment was substantive” and that the district court did not make an error when they denied his motion or for seeking reconsideration of that decision” (http://lexisnexis.com).

With both cases this protects guards and officials when procedural measures are used in regards to the criminal.  It helps officials to guard against and prevent crime from happening behind prison walls.  These cases gave a new mindset to correctional administrators and helped in the development of nationwide standards to demonstrate to the courts that the level of practice in the institutions was the best they could provide.  Although litigation is always a trying situation, it may well be the best way to effect change in correctional settings.  The threat of federal court suits has brought about significant changes in the practice, policies and procedures in correctional institutes. Whether prisons are state or local the problem of institutionalization are ever present in our prisons.  Understaffing, under budgeting, and lack of citizen interest or involvement often become excuses for allowing conditions to deteriorate and sink to the lowest levels.  Beginning in the 1970’s, both state and federal courts were asked to examine the operations and policies of correctional facilities and personnel to ensure compliance with The Bill of Rights.

Prison personnel also have discretionary powers.  Correctional officers must determine whether and how to respond to a wide range of violations of institutional rules.  Responses can range from informal reprimands to written up violations that when added up may cause a loss of earned “good time” credits.  The Prison Discipline Committee can impose a wide range of punishments, including segregation, loss of privileges and transfer to other facilities.  During the prisoner’s rights era of the 70’s due process protections for inmates were established to curtail abuses.  Discretion remains an important factor in determining the institutional experience of the offenders.

References:

Lexis Nexis, http://lexisnexis.com

Wallace, H. & Roberson, C. (2000).  Legal aspects of corrections.  Incline Village, N.V.             Copperhouse Pub. Co.

 

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