Lane v Williams: The plaintiffs were convicted of sex crimes and completed their sentences years ago, but they remain in state custody as civil detainees pursuant to Illinois' Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act, 725 ILCS 207/1-99. Proceeding pro se, and then with the assistance of appointed counsel, the plaintiffs asserted a variety of claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging constitutional problems with the conditions of their confinement at Rushville Treatment and Detention Center. On appeal, only two issues remain:
- (1) whether due process requires input from health professionals prior to restricting opportunities for in-person association among Rushville's six 75-person units and
- (2) whether the First Amendment entitles detainees to use the facility's internal mail system instead of the U.S. mail to exchange letters with other detainees.
The Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act authorizes detention of individuals who have been adjudicated a "sexually violent person" or "SVP," which requires, among other things, evidence that the person "suffers from a mental disorder that makes it substantially probable that the person will engage in acts of sexual violence." 725 ILCS 207/5(f). Civil commitment of this sort lasts until the detainee is "no longer a sexually violent person." 725 ILCS 207/40(a). Commitment under the Act is civil and so may be for purposes such as incapacitation and treatment, but not punishment. See, e.g., Allison v. Snyder, 332 F.3d 1076, 1079 (7th Cir.2003). And, as a general matter, "[p]ersons who have been involuntarily committed are entitled to more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish." Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 321-22, 102 S.Ct. 2452, 73 L.Ed.2d 28 (1982).
The plaintiffs do not allege that they are being unconstitutionally punished, but, as mentioned, that their constitutional rights are nonetheless violated by the limitations imposed on their ability to interact with other detainees, in-person and by letter. These claims appear to be a product of the plaintiffs' dissatisfaction with Rushville's basic setup. Before Rushville, where Illinois' SVP population moved in 2006, SVPs were held at a facility in Joliet that allowed them to mix more freely. Even if that helps us understand the plaintiffs' claims, that contrast is not material; the issues before us concern the current situation at Rushville.
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The parties disagree about the legal standard applicable to this First Amendment claim. The defendants suggest, implausibly, that the plaintiffs would be entitled to an injunction only if Rushville's mail policy shocks the conscience by, for instance, inflicting punishment. The plaintiffs recommend that we apply the standard set out in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987): "when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." The plaintiffs recognize that this standard is used for prisoners' claims, and so believe that a less stringent standard should apply to them as civil detainees, but they do not think we need to articulate that less stringent standard because, as they see it, they win under Turner. That is the standard the district court applied, and it is the standard that other district courts in this circuit have applied to constitutional claims by civil detainees. Smego v. Ashby, No. 10-CV-3240, 2011 WL 6140661, at *3 (C.D.Ill. Dec. 9, 2011); Hedgespeth v. Bartow, No. 09-cv-246, 2010 WL 2990897, at *6 (W.D.Wis. July 27, 2010).
Because Turner tells courts to consider the challenged regulation in relation to the government's legitimate interests, it would not be too difficult to adapt its standard for claims by civil detainees. To do so, courts would only have to recognize the different legitimate interests that governments have with regard to prisoners as compared with civil detainees. In this appeal, however, we do not have to decide whether and, if so, how to make such an adjustment to the Turner standard. Any standard that we would apply, including Turner, would require that the challenged policy at least "impinge" on the detainees' constitutional rights. See Turner, 482 U.S. at 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254. Here, there is no impingement, but only a demand for a better way to communicate with detainees outside their units — a way better than the U.S. mail. There is, after all, a system in place for communication among staff and for detainee communication with staff, and the plaintiffs see no reason that they should not be allowed to use that system for their own purposes. But that is nothing more than a recommendation for the officials at Rushville to consider — a suggestion about how operations at the facility could be improved; it does not state a constitutional claim. As maligned as the United States Postal Service may be, there is no First Amendment right to a means of sending letters superior to the one it provides. AFFIRMED. ...To read the full opinion... by 7th Circuit Court of Appeals