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DOJ Concludes BOP Pretrial Detainees Need Improvements in Access to Attorneys

by Matt Clarke

On July 23, 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published a report and recommendations concerning access to attorneys for pretrial detainees in federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities.

The report focused on detainees’ confidential communications with their attorneys, their ability to review discovery documents provided electronically (e-discovery), their attorneys’ access to their medical records, the availability of translators and access during emergent situations, such as time-limited plea bargain offers or lockdowns.

The review examined 10 facilities across the country to gauge implementation of BOP policies. DOJ also studied how other federal and state facilities were operating to determine best practices and make recommendations.

Problems with in-person attorney visits include an inadequate number of private conference rooms—some BOP prisons have none—which are currently available without advance reservation in some prisons and without limitation on how long an attorney may retain the room in all lockups. This leaves some attorneys waiting for hours to visit a client. BOP policy requires pre-scheduling of attorney visits, but some facilities allow walk-ins. Further, only half of the facilities allow attorneys to schedule visits for time-sensitive matters or other emergent reasons; just three permit after-hours attorney visits in such situations.

The report recommended updating BOP policy to permit walk-in attorney visits system-wide, increasing the availability of private conference rooms and permitting after-hours attorney visitation for emergent situations. The Federal Detention Center in Seattle (FDC-SeaTac) was spotlighted for its innovative use of a 60-minute timer put on private conference rooms whenever a backlog develops.

Another issue was that some prisons prohibit attorneys from bringing in laptops, making reviewing e-discovery with clients difficult. The report recommended that BOP update its e-discovery hardware and software and change rules to permit attorney laptops.

An ongoing problem identified was that attorney phone calls at some prisons occurred only in dayrooms with no privacy. Other prisons with confidential phone areas required pre-scheduling and a guard to monitor them. FDC-SeaTac was again spotlighted for constructing private phone booths around legal phones in its dayrooms, allowing unscheduled confidential attorney calls without tying up guards.

Suggestions were also made to improve legal mail and email, visits from attorneys’ support staff and access to prisoner institutional and medical records. The review also sought input from federal public defenders, Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys and leadership of the Federal Defender Organization. See: Report and Recommendations Concerning Access to Counsel at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Pretrial Facilities, DOJ (July 2023).  


Additional source: USA Today

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