Prison officials do not violate the First Amendment by photographing inmate visitors, a federal appeals court has ruled. Anthony Amaker, a New York inmate, sued prison officials over the practice.
A federal district court judge dismissed the lawsuit. On appeal, Amaker contended that the practice infringed on the First Amendment rights of he and his family members. In addition to this general claim, Amaker also contended that the prison’s practice of photographing his visiting family members was a way to retaliate against him by shortening his familial visits because of a prior grievance he had filed. He also alleged prison officials retaliated against him by confiscating a package of cakes that a family visitor brought.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his constitutional claims and affirmed the district court in its May 9, 2018, decision in Amaker v. Annucci. Regarding his generalized First Amendment claim, the appeals court noted that Amaker failed to plausibly contend that the photographing of visitors policy “lacks a rational relation to a legitimate penological interest.”
The appeals court also rejected the First Amendment retaliation claim. “Existing regulations subject prisoners to restrictions on the kinds of packages they may receive, limit the length of visits, and require visitors to undergo registration and identification before the visit,” the appeals court wrote. According to the court, Amaker failed to establish that prison officials acted “outside the bounds” of existing regulations by photographing visitors.
Bottom line, the appeals court did not believe that the behavior of prison officials was a sufficiently adverse action to rise to the level of a constitutional violation. This is not surprising, as many prisoner lawsuits fail to survive past a motion to dismiss. Generally, in the area of prisoner rights, inmates must show a clear violation of constitutional rights before a court will take a close examination.
Prison officials may need to photograph visitors for security reasons. Prison officials should not retaliate against inmates for filing a grievance. However, the reviewing federal courts in Amaker’s case apparently did not believe this was a true case of retaliation.