Friend of the Indiana appellate and post-conviction advocate

A Word of Caution If You Have Clients in the D.O.C.

Practically every appellate and post-conviction lawyer has a client in the Indiana D.O.C. Communicating with those clients effectively can be a challenge.

Using JPay, the D.O.C.’s inmate email system, is a bad idea for regular communication with clients. First, the D.O.C. makes abundantly clear that emails are monitored and are not confidential. I have now started seeing JPay emails being used by prosecutors in court as evidence. Second, rumor has it the D.O.C. is considering switching to another provider because the emails, which cost money to send, are not reliable in reaching the inmates.

Phone calls initiated by inmates are expensive, and the jury is still out on whether they are actually confidential. I’ll reserve any further comment on that 🙂

Sending letters, until recently, has been my preferred method of communicating with D.O.C. clients. I used to enjoy sending out cards every year during Christmas, and many of my clients were appreciative and commented that they were the only cards they received. But due to D.O.C. concerns about paper being laced with drugs, colored paper, glitter, foil, etc. are now prohibited. For a long time, to save money, I was printing my own letterhead and envelopes. But now even that has caused multiple telephone calls from the D.O.C., due to concerns that family members and friends of inmates are trafficking drug-laced paper that were doctored to appear as if they were legal mail.

It is not unusual, particularly in trial and post-conviction work, to have friends and relatives of incarcerated clients deliver helpful documents to lawyers for review. At times it has been necessary to review those documents in person with clients to understand their relevance. But even this is now troublesome. Recently, the D.O.C. discovered that an inmate had conspired with a relative to have the inmate’s attorney unknowingly deliver some documents to the inmate during the attorney’s visit at the D.O.C. Those documents were believed to contain fentanyl. The attorney, completely unaware of the situation, found himself in an ethical quagmire that is going to take some time (and an ethics lawyer) to sort out.

Any attorney communicating with clients in the D.O.C. should be aware that taking paperwork into a facility that you did not personally generate or obtain from a reliable source could be disastrous. And even if we personally generated it or obtained it from a reliable source, the D.O.C. may understandably be more suspicious of it if we intend to give it to our clients. It is unclear what policy changes the D.O.C. may implement to deal with this, but for the foreseeable future I will try to refrain from delivering documents in person to my clients.

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