The reasonableness of searches of prisoners depends on balancing the need to maintain prison and jail security, safety,
and discipline against the invasion of prisoners’ substantially reduced reasonable expectation of privacy.
Historically, prisoners had no Fourth Amendment rights; the Constitution stopped at the prison gate.
Since Hudson v. Palmer, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that prisoners aren’t beyond the reach of the Constitution
and that no “iron curtain” separates free society from prison society; however, “imprisonment carries with it the loss of
many significant rights.”
body, strip, and body
cavity searches are Fourth Amendment searches, but they’re reasonable without warrants or
probable cause if in the particular situation, the need for security, safety, or discipline outweighs prisoners’ reasonable
expectation of privacy in the particular circumstances of the case.
According to Padgett v. Donald, it’s reasonable to require incarcerated felons to provide a sample of DNA for analysis
and storage in a data bank.
Probationers and Parolees
Probationers and parolees have diminished Fourth Amendment rights, even though they’re not locked up.
Some courts see conditional release as a privilege, not a right. Other courts have adopted a balancing approach that
protects the interest of society by trying to reduce recidivism while still limiting parolees’ and prisoners’ right against
unreasonable searches and seizures:
Probationers don’t enjoy absolute liberty; instead, they get conditional liberty.
Probation and law enforcement officers can search probationers’ houses without warrants as long as the searches
are backed up by reasonable suspicion.
Parolees have fewer expectations of privacy than probationers, because parole is closer to imprisonment than is
Law enforcement officers can search parolees’ homes without either warrants or individualized reasonable suspicion.