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Alaska Jail Recorded Attorney-client Conversations for Four Years

by Monte McCoin

On January 15, 2018, the Anchorage Daily News reported that, from 2012 to 2016, confidential conversations between criminal defendants and their attorneys were routinely recorded by a long-abandoned audio monitoring system in a visitation room at the Anchorage Correctional Complex (ACC).

Clare Sullivan, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections (ADOC), explained that recording equipment was installed in the room at the request of the FBI in 2012, specifically to monitor interviews with suspected serial killer Israel Keyes – a high-profile prisoner who later committed suicide. After Keyes’ death, according to Sullivan, jail staff “simply forgot about” the recording devices, which continued to capture audio continuously, taping over old files every 30 days until the system was “rediscovered” and disabled four years later, in November 2016.

“Once it was discovered that the recordings potentially contained audio, the criminal investigators immediately segregated those recordings, did not listen to them, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office immediately alerted counsel for the Department of Corrections, who removed that capability,” said Anchorage District Attorney Rick Allen’s office.

Erin Gonzalez-Powell is one of many outraged regional defense lawyers who remain skeptical that the practice has, in fact, ended. “If [the ADOC is] permitted to go unsanctioned for this conduct, then the foundation of our constitutional rights will be eviscerated,” she stated.

Cindy Strout, president of the Alaska Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said she continues to be concerned that surveillance at the ACC is more prevalent than has been acknowledged by corrections officials.

“One of the bedrock principles of the criminal justice system is completely confidential communications between an attorney and their client,” said Alaska state Public Defender Quinlan Steiner. “If people believe that their conversations are being listened to by the state, that would undermine due process and undermine the constitutionally fair system.”

PLN previously reported on a major data breach that revealed prison telecom company Securus Technologies had illegally recorded thousands of privileged attorney-client calls. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.1]. Despite the ADOC’s assertion that the visiting room recordings have stopped, defense attorneys have reason to remain concerned – especially because Securus now manages the phone system at the ACC. 



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