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Corrections Law Developments - Search and Seizure of Prison Cells - The Constitution Takes a Holiday

NCJ Number
Criminal Law Bulletin Volume: 21 Issue: 2 Dated: (March -April 1985) Pages: 171-177
F Cohen
Date Published
7 pages
The Supreme Court's 1984 decision in Hudson v. Palmer eliminates all fourth amendment safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures in prison inmates' cells, thus becoming another step toward granting almost total discretion to corrections officials.
The 1973 Model Rules and Regulations on Prisoners' Rights and Responsibilities gave inmates limited privacy rights in their cells. The inmate's grievence in Hudson v. Palmer was that a corrections officer intentionally destroyed noncontraband personal property, including letters and legal materials. The Court, however, wanted to avoid inhibiting security practices in penal institutions. Although prisons are potentially dangerous places and certain types of contraband can threaten personnel and inmates, the Court's decision ignores the differences among security facilities. The opinion also argues that the only place inmates conceal contraband is in their cells, whereas prison officials comment that this is the least likely place. In this decision and others, the Court has adhered to a combat model of prison life and has not required empirical evidence that security practices at issue are indeed necessary. The dissent in Hudson argued for the separation of search and seizure, allowing a search but not seizure of noncontraband material found. Hudson will add to inmates' growing despair about prison conditions and overcrowding and might increase corrections officials' sense that all things are permissible in the name of security. The paper includes the Model Rules on prison cell searches and 17 footnotes.