FLORENCE — On March 25, Jasmine Guillen, a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office detention aide, sent out an email explaining a new video process that defense attorneys and doctors must use to speak with inmates in the county jail due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
One fear lawyers have with this idea is that the video may be recorded, violating attorney/client privilege.
“Our Administration has made the decision that all professional contact visits will be suspended effective 3/30/2020 until further notice. You may visit your client via video in our lobby or from your office through Securus. Be advised there is a fee for remote visits. If you do not have an account with Securus, you will need to create one at www.videovisitanywhere.com. This will need to be completed to schedule your video visits on site and off site. If you have any questions or need assistance feel free to contact me,” Guillen said in a mass email to attorneys and mental health professionals.
This new rule includes doctor visits for Rule 11 evaluations to determine a detainee’s mental health.
Those professionals, who are attempting to talk with their clients via video from outside the Pinal County Adult Detention Center must pay Securus for the video connection, adding costs and expenses to their defense efforts.
They can talk to them for free if they travel to the jail and use an internal computer system, but this seems to violate the suggested social distancing recommendations during the health emergency and places attorneys at increased exposure to the virus.
“The other option of meeting our clients is to set up an account with Securus and the attorney would pay to initiate a video call with their clients for a fee. That company makes a tremendous amount of money profiting off of the misery of others. During this difficult time, one would think that the jails wouldn’t want anyone, lawyer or family member, bringing in any contagion into their jail. So, why are they still charging money for phone calls and video chats from or to in-custody defendants?” said private defense attorney Morgan Alexander.
In-custody clients are already being put out by having their cases routinely continued six or more weeks due to changes enacted last week by Pinal County Superior Court due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“With in-person jail visits (and in-person anything, really) being very strongly discouraged, why does the jail and Securus continue to profit from other people’s safety choices during this calamity? Doesn’t it kind of seem like war-profiteering and an unwillingness to burden-share during a time when our entire economy is about to be up-ended? The jail most certainly receives some cut from Securus,” Alexander said.
Lauren Reimer, spokeswoman for PCSO, said, “Recently PCADC restricted in-person attorney visits due to COVID-19. Attorneys can still utilize video and phone visits. Attorneys still have the option of coming into the facility and using the three booths specifically designated for them in our front visitation area. This is window-type contact where they can pass papers for inmates to sign, but have a barrier of protection between them.”
She added that contact visits may be done on a case-by-case basis if there are multiple attorneys on a high-profile case.
There is no fee for on-site video visits. For off-site video visits using the Securus tablet services, she was not sure about the fees attorneys will have to pay.
“For all video options, inmates go to a booth for privacy reasons. These interactions are never recorded,” she said. “As always, phone calls to the Public Defender are both private and restricted. Other attorneys must notify us to have their numbers blocked as private and restricted in the system. We never have and do not listen to or have access to these conversations.”
According to Reimer, mental health professionals are the only ones allowed contact visits at this time without restrictions and are free of charge.
Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb did not respond to requests for an interview on the use of Securus by defense attorneys and health professionals.
It remains unknown what Securus charges per video call.