Monday, March 31, 2003

Justices question prison visitation policies

WASHINGTON: In a case that could affect the visitation rights of millions of prisoners, Supreme Court justices on Wednesday struggled with the question of whether inmates have a constitutional right to visits with friends and family.

Specifically, the question before the high court was whether Michigan violated that right when it imposed a restrictive visitation policy.

In Michigan, they put into effect stricter rules in 1995 to better protect visitors and to stop the smuggling of drugs and weapons. Minors who weren't an inmate's child or grandchild were no longer allowed to visit. Nor were former prisoners, unless they were immediate family. Inmates with two substance abuse violations in prison could have visitation privileges taken away altogether.

Deborah LaBelle, an attorney for Michigan prisoners, said the rules violated a constitutional right to intimate association by categorizing the people that inmates could have contact with.

"The question is whether it's reasonable to slice off family members," she said. "It is totally the prison's discretion as to what constitutes a family and who comes in."

Michigan's Solicitor General Thomas Casey argued that the state has the right to make sure prisons are safe and orderly by limiting visits.

Justice Antonin Scalia said Michigan isn't targeting prisoners' intimate association rights. But he suggested that prisons should simply limit the number of visitors and not choose categories if they want to maintain order. "The object is to reduce the number of children in the room, the number of visitors," he said. "Are we going to have to pass on, one by one, nieces, siblings, illegitimate children?"

But other justices seemed troubled by Michigan's policy and the lengths the state could go to. "You're thinking about cases where that's justified. You better think of cases where it's not justified but the prison wins," Justice Stephen Breyer said.

By Soc Ial Posted 31 March 03

THE COMMUNITY: Socialisation is the term used for the process by which individuals learn and perform behaviour expected of them by society.