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January 1980

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Introduction: In Bell v. Wolfish, the United States Supreme Court held that, with respect to conditions or restrictions having no specific constitutional source for protection, a pretrial detainee in a federal correctional center has a right under the due process clause of the fifth amendment to be free from any punitive conditions or restrictions during detention. The Court further held that all of the challenged practices and conditions were valid because they were rationally related to the legitimate non-punitive purposes of the detention center. Thus, the correctional facility could place two detainees in a cell built for one, prohibit receipt of books and magazines except directly from publishers ("publisher-only" rule), limit gift packages to one package of food at Christmas, conduct unannounced searches of the living areas outside of the inmates' presence, and conduct visual anal and genital searches for contraband after every contact visit, without probable cause. Apart from its impact on the rights of detainees, Wolfish has virtually blocked any potential expansion of prisoners' rights by the Supreme Court for the near future. The purpose of this Article is to examine the lower federal court decisions rendered in the period since Wolfish to determine whether judicial relief remains available in the federal system for prisoners' claims. To do so, it will be necessary first to explore the evolution of judicial intervention in correctional reform during the 1970s and the relationship of Wolfish to earlier Supreme Court decisions influential in defining the scope of judicial intervention in prison administration.