Bethel v. Jenkins, No. 19-3392 (6th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Bethel is serving a capital sentence at CCI. Following Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Policy, CCI officials implemented a policy prohibiting “orders for printed material placed by third parties through unapproved vendors.” An inmate’s family or friends could only place orders on their behalf through an approved vendor; orders from unapproved vendors had to “be initiated by the inmate and approved by CCI.” If an inmate received a package from an unapproved source, the inmate could return the package at the inmate’s expense or have it destroyed. Officials withheld books from Bethel that were not ordered by Bethel; he received notices explaining why the books were withheld and offering him the option of having the books returned or destroyed. Bethel later learned that other inmates had received religious books, which were initially withheld for being ordered by a third party but were exempted after being reviewed by the chaplain.
Bethel filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an Establishment Clause claim but remanded Free Speech and Procedural Due Process claims and later affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The “publisher only” policy was neutral and supported by the legitimate penological interest of preventing the entry of contraband into the prison; there were reasonable alternative means for Bethel to acquire these books. Bethel received sufficient process following the withholding of his books through written notice, the grievance procedure, and the ability to return the book. The defendants were entitled to qualified immunity in their individual capacities because they did not violate Bethel’s clearly established rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.