Al's Legal Corner - Did You Know?


What is my expectation of privacy in a jail or prison?


Quite frankly, you have zero expectation of privacy, unless you are speaking with your legal counsel, of course. The United States Supreme Court basically stated as much in its Bell v. Wolfish case, which is cited at 441 US 520 (1979). While certain Federal appellate Circuit Courts may have a slightly more generous take on the issue, most everyday commonsense people observing day to day life would agree there is no privacy.

Whether it be from watching television shows and movies, perhaps speaking with people who unfortunately have experienced incarceration, or simply those of us who have to visit incarceration facilities as part of our job, we are all familiar with the fact that inmates have no privacy when it comes to using the toilet, showering, and are even strip searched when entering and/or exiting the facility, whether it be for Court (in some incarceration housing units), or perhaps even with visitation. For example, in Gulf CI, the prison facility in Wewahitchka, I did an attorney-client visit, as my client was charged for a criminal act alleged to have occurred while he was already incarcerated on unrelated charges from when he had different legal Counsel. When visitation was over, he underwent a strip search.

Having said, there is also no privacy with respect to telephone calls, letters, as well as visitation. All phone calls are monitored by law enforcement, and recorded. These calls are periodically provided to the prosecution, and in turn, to the Defense Counsel, particularly if the inmate discusses the facts of the case. Additionally, all letters coming in and out of the facility are read by law enforcement. The only time such is not the case is if the envelope is marked "Legal Mail," as in coming from legal Counsel.

With respect to visitation, visits to the Bay County Jail are both audio and video recorded. The visits occur with the parties using a handheld corded telephone for audio, and looking at one another over a television or computer monitor, similar to using Skype or Facetime. Again, people are monitoring the conversation in real time.

The only time an inmate has privacy is when the inmate is speaking with legal Counsel, or perhaps some other privileged communication. Naturally, inmates must be very careful with what they say to fellow inmates as well, as inmates will work as "snitches" in an effort to receive a lighter plea offer from the State for "snitching" on a fellow inmate.

As a general rule, if a person is incarcerated, there is no right to privacy and no privacy exists, other than when speaking to legal Counsel. Unfortunately, often an inmate who is new to the Criminal Justice system will have no idea. Such is yet another example of why it is so important to immediately contact my law office upon having a loved one arrested. If you, or someone you know, is charged with a crime, call my office immediately at (850) 215-0628. I am only digits away, 24 hours a day!

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