Wednesday, August 19, 2015

7th Circuit: Rule Preventing Former Prison Employee From Marrying Inmate Is Unconstituitonal

In Riker v. Lemmon. (7th Cir., Aug. 14, 2015), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that prison authorities had failed to adequately justify their refusal to allow Rebecca Riker, a former food services employee at an Indiana prison, a one-time visit in order to marry inmate Paul Vest who is serving a 50-year sentence for robbery.  Riker met Vest when she was employed at the prison and Vest worked as a prisoner under her supervision. Riker left her job when it was discovered that she had a romantic relationship with Vest, which included sexual intercourse in a walk-in cooler at the facility. Relying in part on the U.S. Supreme Court's 1987 decision in Turner v. Safley, the 7th Circuit said in part:
The right to marry includes the right to select one’s spouse. See Obergefell, 135 S. Ct. at 2599 (noting “that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy” and that there is dignity in individuals’ “autonomy to make such profound choices”). The proper inquiry, therefore, is whether Ms. Riker was prohibited from marrying the spouse of her choosing. Because Ms. Riker has not been left with any alternative means of exercising her right to marry Vest, it is clear that the burden on that right was not minimal. ...
The Department also submits that the prohibition of Ms. Riker’s marriage is necessary to serve as a deterrent to current employees. It submits that “[t]he policy communicates to IDOC employees that if they begin an inappropriate relationship with an offender while working at an IDOC facility, they will not only be held accountable but also will be prevented from seeing the inmate for as long as he or she is incarcerated.” The Department has not provided any evidence, however, to support its contention that prohibiting Ms. Riker’s marriage acts as a deterrent or that such deterrence is necessary.
National Law Journal reports on the decision.