Reference Number: 
CTAS-1367

“[W]hen the State takes a person into its custody and holds him there against his will, the Constitution imposes upon it a corresponding duty to assume some responsibility for his safety and general well being.” DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 199-200, 109 S.Ct. 998, 1005-1006, 103 L.Ed.2d 249 (1989).

The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, reinforced by the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. It is much too late in the day for states and prison authorities to think that they may withhold from prisoners the basic necessities of life, which include reasonably adequate food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, and necessary medical attention.

It should not need repeating that compliance with constitutional standards may not be frustrated by legislative inaction or failure to provide the necessary funds.

On the other hand, lawful incarceration necessitates withdrawal of or limitations upon many individual privileges and rights. A prisoner does not retain constitutional rights that are inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system.  Wide ranging deference must be accorded the decisions of prison administrators. They, and not the courts, must be permitted to make difficult judgments concerning prison operations.

If the State furnishes its prisoners with reasonably adequate food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety, so as to avoid the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment, that ends its obligations under Amendment Eight.

Newman v. State of Alabama, 559 F.2d 283, 286, 291 (5th Cir. 1977) (citation omitted).

Every person committed to jail may furnish their own support under such precautions as the jailer may deem proper to adopt for the purpose of guarding against escapes and to prevent the importation of intoxicants or narcotics.  If support is not furnished by the prisoner, it must be furnished by the jailer.  T.C.A. § 41-4-108.

In 1978, the attorney general opined that “a sheriff does not have the authority to absolutely ban the importation of any food into the jail by prisoners, but may set up reasonable rules regarding such importation.”

It would not be unreasonable, therefore, for a sheriff to regulate the importation of food if he does so for the purpose of preventing escapes or the importation of contraband. The dangers are obvious.

Case law directly on point is nonexistent. There is, however, much authority for the proposition that the courts will not interfere with the right of prison officials to enforce reasonable regulations to maintain discipline and security within prisons.

Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. No. 78-55 (January 31, 1978).

However, in 1979, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition against  pretrial detainees' receipt of packages of food and personal items from outside a federal correctional facility did not violate the Fifth Amendment, especially in view of obvious fact that such packages were handy devices for smuggling of contraband. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 542, 554-555, 99 S.Ct. 1875, 1882, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979).

Prison officials must be allowed to take reasonable precautions to guard against the smuggling of weapons, drugs or other contraband, the presence of which could pose a serious threat to the safety of corrections personnel and other inmates, or indeed, to the institution itself. Thus, in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 542, 558-59, 99 S.Ct. 1875, 1884-85 (1979), the Supreme Court held that requiring inmates to submit to so serious an intrusion as body-cavity searches after every contact visit with a person outside the institution did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Smith v. Fairman, 678 F.2d 52, 54 (7th Cir. 1982).

Provisions shall be made so that inmates can regularly obtain the following minimum hygiene items:

  • (a) Soap;
  • (b) Toothbrush;
  • (c) Toothpaste or toothpowder;
  • (d) Comb;
  • (e) Toilet paper;
  • (f) Hygiene materials for women; and,
  • (g) Shaving equipment.
  • (h) These items or services shall be made available at the inmate’s expense unless the inmate cannot afford to pay, in which case the inmate shall be provided the item or services free of charge.  Rules of the Tennessee Corrections Institute, Rule 1400-1-.15(2).

Inmates shall be allowed freedom in personal grooming except when a valid governmental interest justifies otherwise.  Arrangements for haircuts shall be made available, at the inmate’s expense, on a regular basis.  If an inmate cannot afford this service, it shall be provided free of charge.  Rules of the Tennessee Corrections Institute, Rule 1400-1-.15(4).

Non-smoking inmates shall not be exposed to second-hand smoke.  Rules of the Tennessee Corrections Institute, Rule 1400-1-.16(6).