Monday, February 27, 2012

Sheriff proposed video conferencing at the county jail

Video conferencing. Virtual jail visits. Meeting with your client without ever leaving the office. It's the wave of the future. Better climb aboard now or get left behind.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is in full cost-cutting mode. His latest idea on lowering the cost of allowing prisoners to see their families and attorneys is video conferencing. Both Fort Bend and Galveston counties have video conferencing set-ups in their jails.

Instead of going to a room to speak with their loved one through plexi-glass or by phone, visitors can sit down at a television monitor and have their face-to-face time. No doubt it's more convenient - but everyone in the lobby can hear your conversation.

In Fort Bend County they have special booths for attorneys to meet with their clients. It gives a greater sense of confidentiality since no one (you assume) outside the booth can listen in.

But do you really know for sure? The county maintains the equipment. The county maintains the software. You know, the same people who are trying to convict your client of whatever alleged misdeed he committed. Are you really having a secure conversation?

Jails maintain visitor logs. They record all outgoing inmate calls. They read all the mail - both incoming and outgoing - unless (fingers crossed) it says "attorney-client communication" (or words to that effect) on the envelope. What are they doing with the video feeds?

Does the software just facilitate the transfer of video and audio from one monitor to another? Does the software allow the state to "capture" audio or video? Does the software allow a third party to monitor the communication?

And now Harris County wants to go the video route, too. I'm sure there are plenty of attorneys out there who hate going to the jail to meet with their clients. The buildings reek. Attorneys have to pass through metal detectors. It's freaking cold. You have to speak through holes punched in a plexi-glass screen.

I don't care for it. But it's what I signed up for when I decided to be a defense attorney. I won't "meet" with my client via the county's video conferencing system because I don't trust the county.

There are too many unanswered questions when it comes to video conferencing at jails. And the folks that have the answers to those questions are the ones holding your client behind bars.


Mark Bennett said...

You have a good point, but you also have no assurance when you meet with your client in person in the jail that the sheriff or some third party is not listening in.

dogstir said...

Yeah, it seems strange to me that a person claims they don't trust the government regarding video phone calls, but yet they trust the government to not have a hidden microphone or camera in the conference room. If they would break the rules and do one, why won't they do the other?

Paul B. Kennedy said...

Both of y'all make a good point. I thought about that as well as I was writing. Unfortunately, when a client is behind bars our options are very limited.

It certainly wouldn't surprise me to find out that the attorney rooms were bugged - but we have no other way to consult with our clients being held at the jail.

Video conferencing, in my opinion, makes it easier for someone to listen in.