Monday, August 22, 2016

Bureau of Prisons Barred from Recording Prisoner Attorney-Client Calls

Kansas Federal Judge Ends Recording of Attorney-Client Calls In State’s Federal Prisons

Several months ago we wrote about the practice of BOP officials being heavily criticized for making recordings of attorney-client calls and emails sent and received through the prison phone and email systems, a practice that a recent bill in Congress specifically addressed. That bill has not yet been voted on, but a federal judge in Kansas banned all such recordings in a recent ruling. US v. Black, et al., 16-20032.
Although that ruling only affects attorney-client conferences and calls in that state, it is the first known ruling specifically barring the practice, whereby such recordings were routinely sent to U.S. Attorneys.  The ruling came about as a result of the exposure of the practice at a CCA-run federal facility at CCA Leavenworth.
This practice regularly occurs in all BOP facilities, with staff members routinely taking turns listening in on prisoner calls and reading Corrlinks emails that mention staff members or other “hot” topics. Of course, this is all the more reason to continue the practice of using legal mail for confidential communications, and making sure that staff follows the rules regarding such mail.
Of course, signs that warn that the “BOP reserves the right to monitor all calls and emails” abound in prison, ostensibly for institutional security. We at FLC have some other suggestions for other signs that might be appropriate to protect the unwary: “Warning:  Prison Food may not meet federal standards;” “Warning: Prison medical care may not meet American Medical Association Standards.”  Any other suggestions?

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Commutations of Federal Prisoners HIt All-Time HIgh With 214 Set to Be Released

President Issues 214 Additional Commutations, Promises Many More in Future


            President Obama issued 214 commutations this week, spurring hope that the pace will increase as he nears the end of his term in January of 2017. This latest batch, the largest issued in a single day since 1900, according to the White House, brings the total of commutations to 562.

            A commutation ends the punishment, but does not wipe out the conviction.  People granted commutations will not go home immediately, but will be transitioned to a halfway house before being released and put on supervised release.

            Prisoner-rights advocates applauded the gesture, but noted that the number of people released to date is still minimal when compared to those still in federal custody for excessively long sentences, less than one-third of one percent. As before, almost all of the commutations were for drug crimes, although some were for combined drug and weapons charges.

            White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote, “Our work is far from finished. I expect the President will continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion.” Eggleston noted that although the White House is committed to even more commutations, only Congress can bring about lasting changes.

            Sentence relief bills have been stalled in Congress, although many hope that they might pass either before the November election or shortly thereafter, citing the widespread bipartisan support for some legislation. “It is critical that both the House and Senate continue to work…to get a bill to the President’s desk,” he said.

            According to Mark Osler, professor of law at St. Thomas University, there were still 11,861 commutation petitions pending as of June, and the professor said a minimum of 1,500 of those qualify for relief under the Administration’s Clemency Initiative Project criteria, launched with great fanfare. Other noted that although Obama has granted a large number of commutations, he has been stingy with pardons, generally considered more useful in assisting former prisoners who are seeking work or looking to vote or obtain gun rights.

            Former Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff, recruited from private practice to oversee the Clemency Project at the Justice Department, quit earlier in the year and expressed dissatisfaction that the pace of action did not match the publicity, and because her recommendations were often overruled.

            The President has apparently gotten the message, and his staff, in announcing the most recent commutations, said the pace of sentence relief will continue to accelerate, promising relief of “historic proportions.”