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BOP Proposes More Access to Lawyers for Pre-trial Inmates

Updated: Mar 1

The Bureau of Prisons has proposed changes that will give pretrial detainees in its federal facilities more contact with their lawyers and more privacy in their visits. The suggested changes were published in the Federal Register earlier this month as an interim, with a request for comments, which must be submitted on or before April 8.

As Matthew Clarke wrote for Prison Legal News, the process began in July of last year, when the Justice Department published a report and recommendations – covering confidential communications with attorneys, the availability of translators, detainees’ ability to review electronic documents provided during discovery, attorney access to client medical records and whether detainees had access during lockdowns or during fast-moving legal situations, such as time-limited plea bargain offers.

As Clarke wrote, the barriers were clear. “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, though some facilities allow walk-ins. 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 -- and the proposed changes -- 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. Also, because some prisons prohibit attorneys from bringing in laptops, making reviewing e-discovery with clients difficult, the report also recommended that BOP update its e-discovery hardware and software and change rules to permit attorney laptops.

The proposed remedies go beyond access and technology. DOJ staff identified an ongoing problem: 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. A facility in Seattle was used as a model: it constructed private phone booths around legal phones in its dayrooms, allowing unscheduled confidential attorney calls without tying up guards.


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