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Some Modest Proposals for Prisons Throughout the Land

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I spend hours of time at least once a month traveling to various prisons around the State of Georgia. Most of these facilities are far away and involve travel deep down Interstate 16. Very little substantive progress is made on cases in these visits. They tend to be venting/counseling sessions. And, for an hour or two of client discussion, the lawyer is away from the office for a day. It is difficult to mix a prison visit with productivity in other areas. Many times, I have had things arise where I had to work as a mobile office from a Subway, Cracker Barrel, or Public Library out in the hinterlands. It all works quite well except that there is still the matter of the multi-hour drive home. Added to the time-consuming nature of doing the prison visit is the fact that you need to set up the visit in advance by faxing paperwork and getting on the phone. Contrast this process with seeing an inmate at a county jail, which is generally local and able to handle drop-in visits. Also, in a pre-trial setting, the inmate has substantive help to offer such as assistance in pre-trial investigations or witness preparation. So, as I made my way to South Georgia, I thought of ten things that the Georgia DOC could do to make their lives and our lives better.

  1. Provide Secure Attorney/Client Video Conferencing on the JPay Pad. All inmates are given a free tablet. The inmates then “owe the company store” for every email, music file, and other meaningful use of the pad. Emails with everyone are monitored. However, it would be fairly simple to maintain a database of counsel fo record and allow secure video-conferencing between the client and the attorney. JPay could easily charge me a steep premium, and I would pay it to avoid all the driving around.
  2. Provide Secure Email Communications with Counsel. Ditto, everything I said in 1, but add email to it.
  3. Provide Secure Phone Communication with Counsel. Ditto, everything I said in 1, but add phone communication to it.
  4. Provide Document File Sharing of Attorney Files. Oh, the fights I have had with clients over the transcript, the discovery, and a broad category of materials known as “the file.” I’m paperless, so the file exists in sometimes terabyte-sized data packets. I don’t feel good sending a metallic disc into the prison. I don’t love the idea of printing thousands of pages of material. And that paper file is just the thing to educate a potential snitch in the preparation of his fictitious story of a confession. Not to mention that the sharing of the transcript will lead to a series of jailhouse legal treatises to counsel that cite the 1978 edition of ALR and the 1965 edition of Am Jur. A secured electronic file sharing service where the client has his own password would facilitate the sharing of materials.
  5. Collaborative Tools. I would love some sort of Google Drive or Microsoft Track Changes system where the Client could embed notes in written documents rather than sharing lengthy hand-written letters.
  6. A Uniform System for the Use of iPads/Laptops. I don’t have files in paper form. And that’s fine for half of the facilities I visit. They allow me to bring may electronic materials inside. However, there is no uniform policy. And many places do not allow me to bring in such materials. There should be a single standard. And the DOC should realize that the state of practice is such that laptops are a part of practice. Indeed, the lawyers who visit are working on an appeal or habeas, which are both writing-based endeavors.
  7. A Pre-Screening Process Such as the one that the TSA Uses. Alas, it has already been done. It is called Bar Fitness. We went through it before we took the bar.
  8. A Streamlined Way to Set Up a Visit. The current system in a mish-mash that inevitably involves blowing the dust off of a fax machine and sending down a copy of my bar card and driver’s license. There should be a centralized electronic place to request a prison visit where much of the necessary information is pre-populated with the information from item seven. You should receive an email confirmation of the approval of the visit.
  9. A Designated Attorney Conference Area in Each Facility. Oh, the number of times I’ve waited around for someone to find an office or set up a card table in a day room. If each facility had a designated spot, things would move faster.
  10. Delay of IAC claims Until Habeas With a Magistrate Screening of Habeas Claims Before Habeas Hearings. The Feds have this process totally figured out. And if we adopted it, the direct appeal would be a place for pure legal issues. And habeas would be the place to litigate IAC. But there would be a filtering process ethat level. The dockets would immediately begin to move efficiently.

Each step wouldn’t just make life better for the appeals lawyer. They would help the DOC as well. And I would spend less non-productive time in my car driving to the nether-areas of the state so that folks can vent their frustrations.