Almost all jails record and monitor inmate phone conversations, and they also scrutinize every letter, postcard, and other object that comes into or leaves the institution. The practice of monitoring and recording phone communications with inmates is widely acknowledged as legitimate. Telephone companies provide access to an individual inmate's call log upon request by a law enforcement agency.
In addition to listening to calls made by individuals, many jail telephone systems allow for group listening to calls. This is commonly done by police departments when making large scale arrests or conducting investigations.
Jails may restrict what kinds of calls inmates can make and receive. For example, inmates in some facilities are not allowed to use phone cards. Others may be permitted only one call per hour or day. The duration of these restrictions varies from facility to facility and sometimes changes over time. Generally, inmates have access to whatever phones are available inside the facility. These might be unit telephones provided by the government or private phones bought by individual inmates.
It is common for jails to charge inmates for their phone calls. In some cases, this is done by adding up the total cost of calls made by an individual inmate and dividing it by the number of calls he/she makes. Other factors may come into play when determining how much an inmate should pay for calls made from jail including age, security level, previous criminal history, etc.
In reality, every phone call made from any jail is monitored, recorded, data-driven, and electronically saved by inmate name, gallery number, PIN number, date, time, duration of call, incoming number, and receiver. We used to listen to jail phone calls on a regular basis as former prosecutors. Now that we're defense attorneys, we still do this sometimes as a quick way to get up to speed on an old case.
Jails routinely monitor and record conversations between inmates. This is done for several reasons: to ensure security and safety, to maintain evidence in cases involving crimes while defendants are in jail, and to protect the government from allegations that it has violated prisoners' rights.
According to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers California, Oregon, and Hawaii, "jail officials may monitor inmate telephone calls for several reasons including maintenance of prison security and order, protection of other inmates from violence, prevention of criminal activity, and enforcement of disciplinary measures."
The court went on to say that "[i]ntercepting telephone calls is a well-established technique for investigating crime," and cited examples such as President John F. Kennedy being assassinated via wiretap. It also noted that courts have generally found no constitutional violation where information about possible criminal conduct has led to investigations or prosecutions of third parties.
The information is used for custody management purposes, often involving efforts to locate missing persons.
Jails can release information about their phone system to the public. Most commonly, this occurs when there is a major security breach or other incident requiring notification of everyone involved. In such cases, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will publish an annual report listing complaints against individual jails regarding privacy violations related to their phone systems.
The most common form of surveillance in prison phone systems is recording prisoners' conversations. Jailers may do this to find evidence of crimes in progress, such as drug trafficking; to maintain order within cells by listening to conflicts between inmates; or to improve detention center staff-inmate relations. Recording conversations without consent or legal justification is prohibited by law in some states but not others. Some states have laws specifically prohibiting audio surveillance of telephone messages left on answering machines or voice mail services. Other states permit audio surveillance if one party to the conversation knows that it is being monitored. With new technology, even private conversations are not safe from monitoring; investigators can now use software to capture words spoken in rooms away from the phone line.
Telephones for Inmates Inmates in the Federal Bureau of Prisons have access to a controlled telephone system that allows them to call permitted contacts. Inmate housing units are equipped with telephones. Each month, inmates are authorized to make up to 300 phone calls. These calls can be made from either a local or long distance provider. There is a cost associated with each call made from an inmate telephone.
In 2008, President Bush signed into law the Prison Phone Act, which provided $10 million to help establish a national prison phone system. The law also established guidelines for calling practices to protect the privacy of inmates and their families while encouraging communication between inmates and their children, spouses, and friends.
An inmate's ability to make calls will be limited by the amount of time they have served, the crime for which they were convicted, the location where they are being held, and other factors. Generally, an inmate who has not yet served their sentence cannot be called before their sentencing hearing. Once sentenced, an inmate can make calls as often as possibleation allowed by prison policy. For example, an inmate may be able to call once per week from a local facility but only twice per month from a distant facility.
If an inmate's family member works within the telecommunications industry and knows this fact, they could try to exploit this by having the inmate call at an hours when the company office is likely to be empty.
An automated voice may be heard at the start of every jail call informing the caller that the call is being monitored and recorded. Anyone engaged in the chat should be aware that it is being recorded. However, this is not always the case. Individual officers may decide what role they want to play with regards to monitoring their conversations.
Jails often use phone recording as a way to monitor inmates while minimizing their involvement. This is especially true for low-level offenders who would not normally warrant an officer's full attention during a visit.
Police can listen in on your phone conversation from time to time whether you are in custody or not. They can do this by using a device called a "pen register". A pen register works by tracking the numbers you dial over the phone network, rather than listening to the contents of each call. It cannot hear voices nor see images on the screen like a wiretap can. The police need court approval to install a pen register, so there must be some reason why they want to know who you were calling.
In most cases, only people involved in the investigation or legal proceedings related to the case can view the recordings. Officers work together to determine how much interaction they have with an individual inmate throughout their stay in jail so they can make decisions about what role they want to play with regards to monitoring their conversations.