Prisons have cracked down on disruptive inmates by creating high-security segregation units with rules designed to cut off contact with the outside world, says the Associated Press. Pennsylvania prison officials want to put their most incorrigible inmates in solitary confinement and keep them from reading newspapers and magazines, or even possess personal photographs, for months and sometimes years. The state is asking the U.S. Supreme Court today to reject a claim by inmate advocates who say access to reading material and photos cannot be used as an incentive for troublesome inmates to behave themselves. The question is whether prisons can transform constitutionally protected rights, such as freedom of speech, into privileges that can be taken away unless inmates do as they are told.
The case’s outcome could affect prison operations nationwide if the justices require state officials to prove that their policies serve legitimate security and rehabilitative interests. The Bush administration says the Pennsylvania policy deserves deference by the courts because it involves maintaining order in prisons. Justice Samuel Alito won’t participate because he sided with Pennsylvania prison officials as a judge on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.