Federal Bureau of Prisons Says Plan to Be Unveiled Will Improve Legal Access at NYC Lockups

By: 
New York Law Journal
Published on:
May 29, 2020
Mark Lennihan/AP

Attorneys representing the Federal Bureau of Prisons agreed Friday to provide a plan to expand access to legal calls at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center and Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, in response to calls for expansion from the Federal Defenders of New York.

The plan will include increased access to videoconferences while the facilities are closed to in-person visits amid the coronavirus pandemic, Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Eichenholtz of the Eastern District of New York said during a status conference Friday.

Sean Hecker of Kaplan Hecker & Fink, who is representing the Federal Defenders, has said that each facility will soon need to hold at least 10 videoconferences per day of at least one hour, a major increase from the current average of four 30-minute video calls per day at each facility.

The BOP’s plan is still awaiting approval but should be deployed in the course of the next week, Eichenholtz said. He did not describe details of the plan during the status conference.

Hecker praised the move and said he hopes the plan will include a concrete timeline for increased access.

The need for expanded legal access at the MDC and MCC is growing as the courts resume more substantive proceedings, attorneys have said. Deirdre von Dornum, attorney-in-charge of the Federal Defenders for the Eastern District of New York, said one of her clients still has a trial set to begin in June.

Lawyers need to be able to talk with their clients at length and go over documents with them, von Dornum said, expressing her concern about clients who might have to make a decision on a plea without seeing an attorney in person.

During Friday’s status conference, von Dornum also described “serious problems” with legal mail at both facilities, saying that some inmates have received opened mail or not received it at all.

“We have to send people documents, since we can’t bring it to them and go over it with them,” von Dornum said, adding that she would send more detailed information to Eichenholtz and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison partner Loretta Lynch, who is mediating the case.

U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie instructed both sides to continue working with Lynch and provide status reports before the next telephone conference, which is set for June 12.

Read this article at the New York Law Journal here.

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