Chapter VIII

General Tips


A. Prison Visits

B. Client Communications

1. Telephones

2. Mail

C. Acquiring Necessary Documents

1. Prisoner Files

2. Domestic Violence Shelter Records

3. Hospital Records

4. Police Reports

General Tips: Prison Visits, Client Communications, and Acquiring Necessary Documentation 125

A. Prison Visits 126

Visiting hours vary from one institution to another. Prisoners cannot move to the visiting room during count 127 and visitors cannot enter the gates during staff shift change. All times should be checked in advance to avoid predictable delays.


All visits are processed at the institution's information desk and noted on the prisoner's record. Adult visitors must present picture identification such as a driver's license, Secretary of State identification card, or passport.


Visitors are given a locker in which they must place their coats, purses, the contents of their pockets, and any other personal possessions. Depending on the institution, the visitor may also bring in up to $10 in silver change to buy refreshments from vending machines.


All visitors, including attorneys and clergy, are subject to search and will be prohibited from visiting if they refuse to submit. (See Appendix 13 for one facility's search policy). When you visit your client in prison, avoid wearing lots of metal jewelry, lace up boots, or other difficult to remove items. Visitors may be required to pass through a metal detector or permit inspection by a handheld device. In addition, they must submit to a "clothed body search" by an employee of the same sex. Such a search is defined as:


A thorough manual and visual inspection of all body surfaces, hair clothing, wigs, briefcases, prostheses and similar items; includes visual inspection of the mouth, ears, and nasal cavity. Removal of clothing is not required except outerwear, e.g. jacket or coat, hat, shoes, and socks to allow inspection of the shoes and soles of the feet. All items shall be removed from pockets. 128


Prisoners are strip searched after all visits.


MDOC policy allows for an unlimited number of attorney visits during regular business hours, the prisoner's regular visiting schedule, or other hours by special arrangement. These visits do not count against the prisoner's quota of personal visits. 129 In addition to a picture identification, attorneys need to present their Bar cards. Paralegals, investigators and other agents of the attorney need a letter on the attorney's letterhead stating that the person is employed in a particular capacity and is assisting on this client's case.


Attorneys should contact the institution where the client resides 24 hours in advance and inform the institution of the planned visit. Arrangements are typically made through the facility's Litigation Coordinator, or the Warden's Administrative Assistant. While calling ahead may not be required at all facilities, it is always a good idea and may reduce waiting time upon arrival.


Even if the client is generally restricted to non-contact visits, the attorney can request a contact visit. 130 Attorneys can and should insist on being provided interview space where the conversation cannot be overheard. 131 Always ask for and keep the name of the person you talked to at the institution in case something has changed upon your arrival.


Pursuant to an August 25, 1995 Memorandum issued by Deputy Director Dan Bolden, attorneys may take the following items into a prison visiting room when seeing a client:


•Legal papers, including the attorney's file on the prisoner's case, e.g., correspondence, pleadings, transcripts;

•Writing pads and implements (pen and/or pencil);

•Softbound copies of law books.


Tape recorders, video cameras, or other equipment may be taken in with the prior approval of the warden's office where there is a special need. These items are "not routinely allowed." All items are subject to search.


At most institutions, attorneys cannot leave paperwork for the client in connection with a visit. If transcripts, briefs, or other documents are given to the client during the visit, they will be confiscated and the client will receive a major misconduct for possessing contraband. However, some facilities will allow attorneys to "mail" correspondence through the institutional mail system while at the facility.


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B. Client Communications 132

1. Telephones

All institutions have prisoner telephones. All calls placed from these phones must be collect. Each prisoner is assigned a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to allow access to a maximum of 20 telephone numbers. Changes in attorney phone numbers must be entered in to the computer within one business day of the prisoner's request.


Telephone calls are automatically terminated after 15 minutes. Warning messages are given a few minutes before the time limit is reached. Then the telephone system simply disconnects the call. If the parties want to continue speaking, the prisoner must dial again, and the recipient must pay the additional charges for accepting another collect call.


Attorney-client telephone conversations are exempt from monitoring if the attorney is not related to the prisoner by blood or marriage. The prisoner must identify the telephone number as that of her attorney, and staff must verify that the number really is a lawyer's. 133 Clients may not be able to return calls to the attorney's home or another office if that number is not listed in the Bar Journal Directory.


If an attorney wants a client to phone, it is advisable to set a specific date and time. An attorney can usually call the warden's office and arrange for the client to call at a specific time during business hours. If the attorney cannot be in the office at the scheduled time, it is strongly recommended that someone be authorized to accept the charges and reschedule another date and time for the call. Prisoners take these "appointments" very seriously.


2. Mail

Mail addressed to a prisoner must include the person's name and number. All regular incoming mail is opened and inspected for contraband.


A prisoner may arrange to have legal mail be treated as confidential and opened only in his or her presence. The client must submit a written request to the mail office in the institution where she resides asking that all mail received from the client's designated attorney "be opened and inspected for contraband in the prisoner's presence." 134 Upon receipt of the clients' request, the mail office will enter an "ATTY" code on the computer. After that, any legal mail will be specially routed to the housing unit where it will be opened and inspected for contraband in the prisoner's presence. Attorneys should clearly mark on the exterior of the envelope: "LEGAL MAIL-CONFIDENTIAL."


An attorney may send one stamped, self-addressed envelope to a client 135. Indigent prisoners are provided with some postage, writing materials, and photocopies to assist them in obtaining access to the courts.


C. Acquiring Necessary Documents 136

1. Prisoner Files

Institutional File: Contains any document that affects a prisoner's incarceration. The pre-sentence report is in the institutional file. (See Appendix 15 for an explanation of the significance of the pre-sentence report.) The institutional file follows a prisoner from institution


Central Office File: Contains documents of the parole board decision making process including the Board's notes and additional documents that were considered. This file is located at the MDOC in Lansing.


Counselor's File: Copies of classification documents and all contacts with prisoners. This file follows prisoners through transfers to other facilities.


Medical File: Contains all information relevant to a prisoner's medical history and treatment during incarceration. You will need a medical release to access this file.


2. Domestic Violence Shelter Records

Domestic violence shelters will not release records of client contacts without verbal or written authorization from the client. Some shelters will require you to submit a release of information on their own forms. Others will accept a letter from the client.


3. Hospital Records

To obtain hospital records, call the patient records office at the hospital where your client went for treatment. Although hospital policies differ, the hospital will likely tell you to send in a written request for the documents you are seeking. The records office will probably want to know the patient's name, date of birth, social security number, and the specific information you are requesting.


In addition, you will need a signed release form. Usually, hospitals will accept a simple letter on attorney letterhead requesting release of information, signed by the patient. Some hospitals may require a more formal letter in which you cite to relevant statutes.


While some hospitals keep all records in storage, others purge their records after seven years. Hospitals may charge a special lawyers' fee for copying. 137


4. Police Reports

To obtain police records, call the records office in the county where the event occurred. The records office may require you to fill out a FOIA request explaining: your relationship to the client, why you need the report, and the case number (if you have it). At some departments, the FOIA request will be forwarded to the City Attorney who will decide whether to release the information.


Police department policies for storing records vary. Some police departments archive their older records off-site. Some shred their records after seven years. If the event you are researching led to a prosecution, and if records of the event have been shredded by the police department, try contacting the prosecuting attorney's office to see if they still have records on file.


Police records offices charge copying fees on the order of about $3 for the first page and $2 per page thereafter.


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125. Most of the text in this chapter was excerpted with the publisher's permission from Michigan Prison Sentences : A Guide for Defense Attorneys (1996) by Sandra Girard. This invaluable publication is published by the Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System, and can be ordered with the form attached in Appendix 16.

126. Excerpted from Girard, p. 141-43.

127. "Count" is the time when the Department of Corrections counts all inmates on site for security purposes.

128. PD 04.04.110(A)(5)

129. PD 05.03.140(B)

130. R 791.6614; DOM 1996-42, 7; PD 05.03.140(FF).

131. PD 05.03.116(d).

132. Excerpted from Girard, p.137-41.

133. R 791.6638(2).

134. R 791.6603(4); PD 05.03.118(1).

135. PD 05.03.116(II)(F).

136. Excerpted from Girard, p. 91; 188-89.

137. At one hospital the author called, the charge was a $22.50 clerical fee plus $0.75 per page.