Wilkinson v. Austin
545 U.S. 209 (2005)

  • Ohio operated a super-maximum security prison (aka a Supermax) at the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP). Conditions at a Supermax prison are far more restrictive than at other sorts of prisons.
    • Ohio had inconsistent and undefined procedures for assigning inmates to prisons. There was a written policy, but some of the prisoners assigned to the OSP did not feel that it was fair.
  • Austin (a prisoner at OSP), and some other prisoner sued. They claimed that they had a liberty interest in not being assigned to the OSP, and they argued that they were therefore required to sufficient procedural due process as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
    • Ohio argued that prisoners, as a class, have no liberty interests, and that even if they did, the procedures already in place were sufficient to satisfy procedural due process.
  • The Trial Court found for Austin. Ohio appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that prisoners do have a liberty interest in not being assigned to a more restrictive prison than necessary.
    • The Court found that the Ohio procedures were not sufficient to guarantee due process.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Ohio appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found a number of procedures that were required to satisfy due process, including such things as having a formal hearing.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the 14th Amendment does not guarantee that prisoners will not be placed in more restrictive conditions of confinement.
      • However, individual State procedural guarantees may give rise to a protected liberty interest.
      • In this case, the Court found that the “atypical and significant hardship within the correctional context” did give rise to a liberty interest.
    • The Court looked to Matthews v. Eldridge (424 U.S. 319 (1976)), and found that when procedural due process is required, a three-part balancing test was used to determine how much was required.
      • The private interest affected by the official action
      • The risk of an erroneous deprivation by the procedures used, and the marginal value of any increased protections, and
      • The burden on the government that adding those increased protections would impose.
    • The Court compared the Ohio procedures to the Matthews Factors and found that they were sufficient to satisfy due process.