Ohio operated a super-maximum
security prison (aka a Supermax) at the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP).
Conditions at a Supermax prison are far more restrictive than at other
sorts of prisons.
Ohio had inconsistent and
undefined procedures for assigning inmates to prisons. There was a
written policy, but some of the prisoners assigned to the OSP did not
feel that it was fair.
Austin (a prisoner at OSP),
and some other prisoner sued. They claimed that they had a liberty
interest in not being assigned to the
OSP, and they argued that they were therefore required to sufficient procedural
due process as guaranteed by the 14th
Ohio argued that prisoners,
as a class, have no liberty interests,
and that even if they did, the procedures already in place were
sufficient to satisfy procedural due process.
The Trial Court found for
Austin. Ohio appealed.
The Trial Court found that
prisoners do have a liberty interest
in not being assigned to a more restrictive prison than necessary.
The Court found that the
Ohio procedures were not sufficient to guarantee due process.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found a
number of procedures that were required to satisfy due process, including such things as having a formal
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court found
that the 14th Amendment
does not guarantee that prisoners will not be placed in more restrictive
conditions of confinement.
However, individual State
procedural guarantees may give rise to a protected liberty interest.
In this case, the Court
found that the "atypical and significant hardship within the
correctional context" did give rise to a liberty interest.
The Court looked to Matthews
v. Eldridge (424 U.S. 319 (1976)),
and found that when procedural due process is required, a
three-part balancing test was used to determine how much was required.
The private interest
affected by the official action
The risk of an erroneous
deprivation by the procedures used, and the marginal value of any
increased protections, and
The burden on the
government that adding those increased protections would impose.
The Court compared the Ohio
procedures to the Matthews Factors
and found that they were sufficient to satisfy due process.