Unfortunately, sometimes our loved ones or close friends find themselves in correctional facilities. If this has happened to you, then you know how difficult staying in touch with them can be… especially when you realize that all of your communication will be recorded and monitored.
Did you know that communications between you and your loved one can potentially be used by the police as evidence for criminal prosecution? It’s important that you don’t make things worse and avoid the possibility of self-incrimination!
Why Police and Prison Staff Monitor Your Private Calls
Nearly all prisons record and monitor inmate phone calls, just as they also inspect every letter, postcard, and any other item coming into or going out of the prison. This is done for security – to be sure someone isn’t planning an escape, a drug delivery, etc. Even visiting rooms have devices that record video and sound.
This practice of monitoring and recording your phone calls with an inmate is generally accepted as legal. Prison staff always listens to samples of inmates’ calls! In particular cases, they monitor all of the communications of an inmate who they believe is attempting to conduct business outside the prison via the telephone.
The Supreme Court and various lower courts have recognized that prison inmates’ reasonable expectations of privacy are lower than they would be outside prison walls. Additionally, the government has a compelling interest in ensuring the security of its prisons, and surveillance is generally accepted as one tool the government can use to ensure that security.
Anything that an inmate says to the person on the other end of the line can be used against him or her, in any way, within the boundaries of the law.
Believe it or not, it is common for inmates to discuss their pending case, talk about other crimes they were involved in, name and identify other participants and possible witnesses, and much more. For the Prosecutors and Detectives listening on the line, these phone calls often break a case wide open and seal the inmate’s fate.
How Can You Know That You Call Is Recorded?
Most facilities that record inmate’s calls play a preliminary message informing the inmate that their call will be recorded. They also post notices indicating visits are monitored as well. Sometimes you can hear a “click” that indicates a law enforcement official has joined your conversation. Another “click” will tell you that the supervisor is offline, but that doesn’t mean that your call is no longer being recorded!
The use of taped calls against inmates has become so prevalent that some defense lawyers put a warning on their websites: “DO NOT say anything at all that you do not want to hear played back to the Judge in the courtroom at your trial.”
When a 3rd party (loved one or friend) is involved in the conversation, it opens up the possibility that calls are no longer subject to the attorney-client privilege, making it eligible for State discovery. As we mentioned, calls to anyone other than the inmate’s attorney will be monitored and recorded. It is surprising how much is said during these calls, even after the very clear recording lets everyone on the call know that the call is being recorded.
Another danger while making phone calls from the prison or jail is that the “phone bank” or wall of phones are in an open area where other inmates congregate and can easily eavesdrop on the conversation. One reason this might happen is because an inmate listening in can gain information to provide to the State – this can help them get their own charges or sentences reduced. One can never underestimate what an incarcerated man or woman will do to regain his or her freedom.
How To Avoid Self-Incrimination
We understand the importance of calls from the incarcerated to their family members and loved-ones. They can serve as a crucial “lifeline” to someone behind bars, connected them to the “outside world.” In some cases, this communication can be the one thing giving an inmate the courage and motivation to hang in there while their case moves forward.
However, you should always keep in mind that anything you or the inmate say can be used against either of you. To close friends and family members who are reading this, you can do a lot to prevent your loved one from causing more damage to him/her as a result of something said.
Here is what you should do to avoid the dangers of the phone:
- DO NOT forget that all calls are being monitored and recorded, and that anything said can be used against your family member or loved-one in their current (or, possibly, future, case)
- DO NOT ask questions to which an answer might disclose damaging information. It is not unusual for the Prosecutor to file NEW charges based on something that was said on the phone
- DO NOT discuss the pending case at all. Direct your questions and concerns to a lawyer who can then decide how to proceed
- DO remember the dangers of making calls, and relay this information to anyone you believe might be in contact with your loved one while he or she is incarcerated
- DO explain to your loved one how the phone system worksand let them know that you must maintain responsible control over the amount and duration of such calls
- DO explain to your loved one that you may not be able to afford the number of calls they wish to make. It is natural to feel some pressure, even guilt, for not doing all that is asked of you. However, it is better to have a temporarily angry loved-one than a destroyed credit report and bankruptcy. A good way to avoid this is to use the PrisonConnectservice to reduce your bills significantly.
It is imperative to be aware of the potential “danger zones” that exist in the system, and how to best avoid falling victim to them. We have discussed the dangers of the inmate phone system, and how best to maintain contact with your loved one while not making his legal situation worse. By following these suggestions, you will go a long way towards avoiding the pitfalls that those without this information easily fall victim to.