Alabama’s prison system is the first – and currently only – in the nation to require visitors to be fingerprinted. In late 2012, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) implemented the new policy due to what officials claimed was a need for greater efficiency. A new computer system had the capacity to scan fingerprints, something the old system was not able to do. The fingerprinting procedure was “part of the upgrade” and the brainchild of the ADOC’s IT department, according to prison system spokesman Brian Corbett.

The old system required guards to review each visitor’s driver’s license to verify their identity before allowing them into a state prison.

“That was a time-consuming task,” Corbett told the Montgomery Advertiser. “Now, the verification process is much faster, so visitors are moved through the process much faster.”

“We still require visitors to have a government-issued photo ID, and that requirement will remain in place,” he added. “But there are times when someone else resembles the photo on an ID. Scanning the fingerprint of visitors verifies they are who they say they are.”

The program prompted an immediate response from the American Civil Liberties Union. David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, didn’t buy the ADOC’s purported security concerns.

“Alabama prison officials can’t say with a straight face that it is a security issue, not when the remaining 49 state prison systems do not require the scanning of visitors’ fingerprints,” he stated. “It is an unnecessary barrier to visiting inmates.”

Fathi called the fingerprint scan “extreme” – especially since visitors to Alabama state prisons already have to undergo a criminal background check.

“If showing a driver’s license is all that is required to get on an airplane that will fly you near the White House,” he said, “it should be enough to get you inside a prison to visit someone.”

ADOC officials claimed that visitors’ fingerprints will not be shared with local, state or other law enforcement agencies, nor will they be used to check for outstanding warrants. Alabama is the first state to require visitor fingerprinting at all state prisons, but other correctional facilities have considered similar policies.

In March 2011, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas was going to fingerprint visitors when leaving the prison. Captain Dale Call, then the administrative officer at El Dorado, said visitors would be required to place an index finger on a scanner before they exit as a security measure to help prevent prisoners from inadvertently being released. Their fingerprints would not be kept on file, however.

In the nation’s capital, officials with the District of Columbia Department of Corrections (DC DOC) announced in early 2011 that they were considering fingerprinting visitors at the D.C. jail to check for outstanding warrants.

The proposal prompted concerns that the fingerprinting would be overly intrusive, even though DC DOC officials said they never intended to digitally store the fingerprints and the Metropolitan police would decide what to do if a visitor’s fingerprints revealed an outstanding warrant.

Corrections officials told the Washington Examiner that they wanted to use “live scan” technology to take an image of the visitors’ fingerprints – the same technology used on prisoners to confirm their identity when they enter and leave the jail. The District planned to use federal grant money to pay for the system.

“Through a $134,000 grant from the Office of Justice Grants, we will be [using] the technology in our visitors’ control area to assist [D.C. police] in the identification of individuals with outstanding warrants,” corrections spokeswoman Sylvia Lane told the Examiner. “If a match is made, DOC will detain the visitor and contact the police department and the visitor will be taken into custody,” she said.

The DC DOC’s plan to fingerprint visitors faced sharp criticism, however, and officials announced in March 2011 that they were reevaluating the proposal due to a “host of legal, financial and operational concerns that have been raised.”

In Maryland, a public protest accompanied the March 2013 implementation of a policy requiring all visitors to the Baltimore City Detention Center to be fingerprinted. The warden at the jail said if the fingerprinting reveals that a visitor has been incarcerated, then he or she will not be allowed to visit.

Sources: USA Today, www.correctionsone.com, www.allgov.com, Associated Press, , www.nbcwashington.com, www.wbaltv.com, Montgomery Advertiser

(Reprinted with Permission from Prison Legal News)

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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