By Christopher Zoukis
Inmates incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons simply need to remain silent when talking to prison personnel. I know this is a basic concept from an attorney’s perspective, but it is often forgotten by incarcerated clients. As such, attorneys, and other defense specialists, should make a point of reminding their incarcerated clients of this simple rule. It can certainly help to protect their clients while they’re in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Just today I was present when an inmate was submitting a monetary withdrawal form (BP-199) to his correctional counselor. The correctional counselor looked over the form and made a remark about the company which the money was to be sent to; it had a name like “Busty Beauties” or something like it. When the counselor, a female Federal Bureau of Prisons staff member, stated the name of the company, she gave the inmate an inquisitive look. This put the inmate on edge because, as he subsequently told me, he didn’t want his counselor to think of him as some sort of pervert. Because of this, he informed his counselor that it was to pay the people who manage his Facebook account for him. While not prohibited by Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy, the counselor felt that it was and informed the inmate that he could get in trouble over the Facebook page. I have no doubt that an email was immediately sent to SIS — the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ internal investigations branch — regarding the matter.
While the correctional counselor is probably incorrect — inmates are almost assuredly allowed to publish their writings on any website that they want to, with the help of others outside of prison — the inmate created a potential problem for months to come. By his own admission, he opened himself to the possibility of having to defend himself against an unwarranted incident report. After all, all it takes for an incident report to be issued is a prison guard to write it up and forward it to the lieutenant’s office. That’s it. The prison guard could even be completely wrong concerning the action engaged in or the policy implications. While this would certainly matter to the inmate charged with a disciplinary infraction, it probably wouldn’t have any impact upon the proceedings (they would proceed nonetheless). The burden would then be on the charged inmate to prove that either the prison guard is wrong in what they’ve claimed to have occurred or that their actions are not prohibited by policy. This is an unenviable position in which to be, and a losing one if competent counsel is not immediately retained.
Clients would do well to hear about this situation. This is because this situation is a fairly regular and seemingly innocuous one. The inmate clearly wasn’t trying to inform on himself, but even though he didn’t admit to violating Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy, he did increase his liability substantially by making it appear as if he could have violated disciplinary policy. This is because he might very well have motivated Bureau staff to place him under investigation. And when the Bureau’s staff members are looking for inmate misconduct, they tend to find it (either actual or perceived misconduct). Then allegations by Federal Bureau of Prisons’ staff must be refuted, and this is no easy task.
Simply stated, incarcerated clients should be counseled to say as little as possible to Federal Bureau of Prisons staff. When they turn in a monetary withdrawal form, they should simply hand it in. If asked about it, they could reply, “Bills need to be paid.” If asked what kind of bills, they could respond, “Research services.” End of story. If staff members ask an inmate about a specific instance of alleged misconduct, the phrase, “I disagree with your beliefs here, but am going to have to remain silent concerning them” will do. Regardless of what the conversation might consist of, the less disclosed the better.
The less an inmate speaks to Federal Bureau of Prisons staff, the better it is for them. This is because the risk of admitting to misconduct — or piquing prison staff’s interest — will be reduced. And with this reduction comes a significant reduction in the inmate’s liability. When even perceived misconduct — and no actual evidence — can result in conviction, any amount of disclosure is too much.