Turner v. Safley
482 U.S. 78 (1987)


  • The challenged marriage regulation permitted an inmate to marry only with the permission of the superintendent of the prison, and provided that such approval should be given only “when there are compelling reasons to do so.”
  • The term “compelling” is not defined, but prison officials testified at trial that generally only a pregnancy or the birth of an illegitimate child would be considered a compelling reason.
  • The prison argued that the restriction was reasonably related to legitimate security and rehabilitation concerns.

Does the regulation violate the Fourteenth Amendment?



  • “We disagree with petitioners that Zablocki does not apply to prison inmates. It is settled that a prison inmate retains those constitutional rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system.”
  • Here, the almost complete ban on the decision to marry was not reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives:
    • Security:
      • There were obvious, easy alternatives (e.g., fed reg that says to permit marriages unless the warden finds it poses a threat).
      • No evidence that the marriage restriction prevented love triangles or that it created them, i.e., no connection.
    • Rehabilitation:
      • Prison officials testified that generally they didn’t experience any problems with the marriage of male inmates and marriages were routinely allowed prior to the rule.
      • Prof thinks intermediate level of scrutiny was applied.

Rule: Although prison marriages are subjected to substantial restrictions, sufficient important attributes of marriage remain to form a constitutionally protected relationship – i.e., prisoners have a constitutionally protected right to marry.
Rule: Marriage restrictions in prison must be reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives.