Grits for Breakfast on Inmate Jail Calls

Fellow local Austin blogger Scott Henson asks “What’s wrong with giving prisoners phone service?” Here’s one of several salient points he makes in favor of allowing or increasing inmates’ access to the outside world:

(M)aintaining family ties is critically important to preventing recidivism and facilitating prisoner re-entry after their sentence is complete. Preventing contact with families punishes children in particular (half of men and two thirds of women in TX prisons have minor children on the outside)

He follows up with a post about jail profiteering on collect calls from inmates. (Most folks don’t realize how much local jails make off of these calls, but you tell me, isn’t seven times the going rate “gouging”?). In it, he raises a serious Sixth Amendment right to counsel question:

Is county profiteering off jail calls to attorneys effectively reducing inmates' access to attorneys and inhibiting their right to counsel? Wouldn't such policies provide an institutionalized economic incentive for attorneys to minimize client communications?

I dare say he’s right, but unfortunately, it probably falls into the “there’s not much a lawyer can do about it” category. Trust me, no Texas Appeals court will ever reverse a conviction based on it. Perhaps a class action lawsuit on behalf of those families being bilked would be the right tack. But, bearing in mind that I don’t practice civil law, I doubt they would have the equivalent of standing to assert their incarcerated family member’s criminal procedure rights.

As to the situation here in Austin, I’m happy to say there’s been recent good news on this front. The Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association has recently come to an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office that the Travis County Jail will provide free calls from the Del Valle Correctional Facility to all local attorneys representing inmates. Now we just need to address those outrageously expensive collect calls home…

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Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer - November 13, 2008 11:01 AM
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Gritsforbreakfast - October 23, 2006 7:08 AM

Do you think their might be a 1983 class action suit available on behalf of the inmates' 6th amdt rights (in counties that don't allow free attorney calls)? I agree no individual appeal would get reversed on that basis, but since it's so systematic maybe there's federal relief available.

That said, I know we're in the 5th Circuit, so maybe all I did was provide lawyers with a good laugh line with that last suggestion, but it's the only angle I can think of. Best,

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