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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Jeffrey A. Beard, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Ronald Banks, Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated
(argued the cause for Respondent)
(argued the cause for Petitioner)
(argued the cause for Petitioner)
Facts of the Case 

Pennsylvania houses "incorrigible, recalcitrant" prisoners in the Long Term Segregation Unit (LTSU). Ronald Banks was one of about 40 prisoners in level 2 of the LTSU, which is reserved for the most dangerous, worst-behaved inmates. It is the policy of the LTSU to impose severe restrictions on the privileges of level 2 inmates. In particular, level 2 prisoners are the only ones denied newspapers, magazines, and photographs. Beard, the Secretary of the PA Department of Corrections, argued that this policy was necessary to promote rehabilitation and ensure prison safety. Banks brought a suit challenging the policy as a violation of the First Amendment. On the recommendation of a Magistrate Judge, the District Court ruled in favor of Beard. On appeal, however, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The Circuit Court found that the prison's policy failed to meet the test laid down by the Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley. The Third Circuit held that the First Amendment rights of the prisoners took precedence, because the policy was unrelated to the goal of rehabilitation, and an ineffective method of increasing prison safety.


Does a prison policy that denies newspapers, magazines, and photographs to the worst-behaved prisoners violate the First Amendment?

Decision: 6 votes for Beard, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

No. In a 6-2 decision, the Court reversed the Third Circuit and upheld the prison's policy. The plurality opinion by Justice Breyer held that Banks had failed to present sufficient evidence that the prison had acted unreasonably in denying newspapers, magazines, and photographs to its most troublesome inmates. The Court found that the policy met the four-part test established in Turner v. Safley: (1) it was rationally related to the legitimate penological goal of motivating good behavior; (2) though prisoners had no alternate means of exercising their rights, they could potentially graduate to the less-restrictive level 1; (3) accommodating prisoners' rights could result in negative consequences (worse behavior); and (4) there was no alternate means of accomplishing the prison's goals without restricting the prisoners' rights. Justice Thomas concurred separately in an opinion joined by Justice Scalia, arguing that "This case reveals the shortcomings of the Turner framework." Justices Stevens and Ginsburg both wrote dissents. Justice Stevens called the policy "perilously close to a state-sponsored effort at mind control," while Justice Ginsburg criticized the high evidentiary burden the plurality placed on the prisoners. Justice Alito took no part in the decision of this case.

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BEARD v. BANKS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 29 August 2015. <>.
BEARD v. BANKS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 29, 2015).
"BEARD v. BANKS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 29, 2015,