Cops and feds and numerous other law enforcement personnel are renowned for bending the law to suit them in TV shows and movies. And who could blame them – they are almost always the good guys onscreen, furiously hunting very bad guys who have to be stopped at all costs. In most cases, the audience doesn’t bat an eye at this violation of civil rights because we all understand the facts – it’s done in the service of a good story. It’s not real life. But what about when it is?
The detention center in Leavenworth, a federal prison in Topeka, Kansas, is privately owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America. According to media sources in Kansas, they are accused of doing exactly that! The investigation that revealed these disturbing allegations started last summer in the wake of concerns that were raised by a defense attorney.
The attorney claimed that video recordings had been made of meetings they had with their client in Leavenworth, which is a violation of the attorney/client privilege which assures confidentiality. The inmates who were allegedly recorded discussing legal matters with their attorneys, were accused of being involved in a smuggling ring inside the prison. The U.S. Attorney’s office had been investigating the smuggling ring and was gathering evidence in order to prosecute its members.
Evidence was provided by a number of defense attorneys who represented inmates in the prison, revealing that both in-person meetings and phone calls between defense attorneys and their clients had been recorded. This is said to have happened even when those attorneys specifically requested that their numbers be blocked from recordings.
A federal judge investigated, and discovered that prisoner’s rights had been violated.
A federal judge, David Cohen, was named Special Master and assigned the task of investigating the allegations. The investigation, which took months, revealed that authorities at Leavenworth had been recording these private conversations. According to Special Master Cohen, when he explained the findings in court recently, he reviewed a small sample of meetings that took place in a room with a camera, and discovered that they were indeed recorded.
Based on this information, the Special Master noted that attorney visitor logs for the 12-week period during which time recordings took place, showed more than 700 attorney visits to rooms that were equipped with cameras. He did point out that despite the fact that illegal recordings have been confirmed, there is no evidence one way or another to prove if the recordings were ever watched.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, who received the recordings, has refused to acknowledge that any misconduct has occurred. In a statement made by Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Tomasic, he claims that he definitely “made a mistake” but that “no employee of the United States Attorney’s Office or law enforcement officer” viewed any of the recording provided to them by Corrections Corporation of America.
An attorney being able to have a private and protected meeting with their incarcerated clients is a foundational principle of the United States legal system. Calling it into question raises issues about how many other areas of violation there have been in the past that went unnoticed, or unreported.