Thursday, September 15, 2005

Fighting the prison system - Undie update

For those readers who are following this story, I've been corresponding regularly with Mr. Corbett of the Alabama Corrections Dept. Our correspondence is somewhat long but I'm going to post it all as an object lesson in bureaucracy. So we left off here. Corbett replied.

Ms. Spencer,

I am not sure which facility in Elmore that you are referring to, in that, ADOC operates five facilities in that county. Please Keep in mind, visitation at any prison is a privilege for both the visitor and the inmate, it is not a right.

Any Administrative Regulation or facility SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) that requires a visitor to wear underwear is necessitated for very common sense reasoning. Dress code for ADOC employees also mandates the wearing of underwear. Rules are prominently posted on signage at the facility entrance. Inmates are advised of visitation rules at orientation and expected to relay such information to their visitors. The visitor is oriented upon arrival at the facility.

I'd say based on the tone of your email that you have already committed the cardinal sin of journalism., "In order to understand this uncivil, inhumane and I believe possibly illegal conduct on the part of your officers." you have seemingly drawn conclusions, biased yourself by taking sides and created an agenda based story idea for yourself. Per ADOC regulations bloggers are not considered valid media outlets.

Despite this however, please refer to the following attachment. This regulation is dated and under review. However, it should provide a basis for visitation rules.

Regards, Brian Corbett


The attachment is long, so I'm not posting it. Email me if you would like a copy, otherwise I referenced the pertinent parts in this reply.

Dear Mr. Corbett:

Thank you for your prompt response to my enquiry, although I'm afraid it doesn't address the specific questions I asked and I must take issue with your response.

To begin with, while we can agree that visitation is a priviledge extended to the inmate; the vistitors, by your own screening methods, are not criminals and as tax-paying citizens whose contributions fund the operation of your facilities, certainly have a right to visit their family members, unless and until some rule has been breached. Even your own guidebook makes only that distinction. "Visitation and most free world correspondence are privileges extended to inmates."

In the instant matter, the only persons breaching the rules, were your own officers. Again, I refer you to your own guidebook.

"For males: A Pat search is conducted – checking collars, sleeves, waist. Go down back with hand, Pat down pants legs, hems and check bandages. Shoes and socks are pulled off by visitors to be checked. Belts and all jewelry are checked."

"For females: Females are asked to pull out the bottom of their bra and shake it. If wigs are worn, they are asked to pull it off and it is checked. A Pat search is conducted – checking collars, sleeves, and waist. Go down back with hand. Pat down pants legs, hems, check bandages. Shoes and socks are pulled off by visitors to be checked. Belts and all jewelry are checked."

Nothing in this material defines specific attire that is forbidden and the procedure does not include checking panties. Indeed, since the main thrust behind the rules seems to be to prevent the importing of contraband, it would seem to me that common sense would dictate the lack of same is one less place for it to be secreted.

Your employee dress code is immaterial. They're also required to wear uniforms. So I repeat my request for an explanation as to why a visitor would be "required" to wear undergarments. I also see nothing in the rules that prohibits the wearing of shorts, yet I know of at least one case where a person was prohibited from entering the visitor's room for this reason.

I am told that no rules regarding such a dress code for visitors are visibly or prominently posted in any facility, nor have they been made available to the families in any other manner. Furthermore, no visitor recalls having been invited to an orientation.

It hardly seems sufficient to say you disseminated that information to an incoming inmate while he was being processed. One would expect that to be a rather traumatic moment in anyone's life and perhaps they may have all forgotten having received this rule. However, it does stretch credibility to believe that not one single inmate remembered to impart that information to visitors they earnestly want to see. So I repeat my request for some definitive proof that this "dress code" has been disseminated in a manner that would it make it reasonably available to those families.

I must tell you that I have received complaints from many people who were similarly mistreated at various facilities under the Commissioner's control but I am reluctant to be more specific because the guards have threatened repercussions to the inmates if any specific complaints are made.

I do however, have one family courageous enough to do so and is willing to file a formal complaint upon assurance that retribution will not be taken against their loved one.

I'm sure we can agree that if reducing recidivism and rehabilitating inmates in order to return them to productive society is still the goal of our corrections system, then facilitating family support should be a primary concern.

Thank you in advance for your continued attention to this matter.


Mr Corbett promptly answered,

Ms. Spencer,

I am afraid we must agree to disagree. In that, visitation is a privilege for the inmate it does not guarantee any visitor a specific "right". More so, that proposed visitor must understand that his or her visitation privileges are just that, a privilege. Therefore, they must obey ADOC rules during visitation, whether or not they agree with them. If they simply do not agree with ADOC rules of visitation, then of course they are free to leave without visiting. Family members to not have a right to visit, it is a privilege for both the inmate and the family member. Visitation may be suspended or canceled at anytime by ADOC. That being said, we do encourage visitation.

As sated in my previous response, the wearing of appropriate undergarments, including panties and bras is an ADOC standard operating procedure requirement. you may agree or disagree, like or dislike this requirement, however, it is an ADOC requirement for the privilege of visitation. Inmates are also required to wear appropriate undergarments and uniforms, just as our officers and support staff are. Why should such by immaterial? Its a very valid point. Why should inmate and staff have a requirement regarding appropriate dress but visitors should not? Yes, shorts are prohibited too.

My I ask were you the visitor in question? If not, how do you know the only persons breaching the rules were ADOC officers? Are you simply taking for fact the word of a visitor? Again, I must state that by the tone of your email you are breaching journalistic ethics by drawing inaccurate conclusions, which lead to bias and agenda driven story telling or "blogging". Blogging is certainly not an accepted journalist standard and is not recognized as valid media by ADOC.

What you have been told regarding the posting of visitation rules is inaccurate and/or false.

One of your readers sent a box of undergarments to the facility so that those who attempt to visit, yet are dressed inappropriately, might have something appropriate to wear and be allowed to visit. We certainly appreciate the donation. ;-)

Brian Corbett


Needless to say this irritated me and I sent this.

I am assuming your sniping at my journalist credentials indicates you are unwilling to furnish me with the information requested. While I am not a card carrying member of the main stream press, I do have a legal background and would expect a more responsive answer even as an ordinary tax-paying citizen.

Merely asserting that you have made adequate efforts to facilitate visits without proof of same does not meet the standard for accountability of a publicly funded office.

While it's true I have not personally endured the reported behavior of your officers, I do have sworn affidavits from those who have, and plaintiffs willing to forward in this matter. One suspects a suit in which your agency is a named party may draw the attention of journalists whose credentials you may respect more.

This is a serious matter. I, or our legal representative, will be back in touch after I have consulted with counsel on our available legal remedies to address your refusal to furnish the requested documentation.


And finally Mr Corbett replies,

Ms. Spencer,

I do not mean to snipe. However, I do take exception with your bias as a so called "journalist" since your first email mentioned the Detroit Free Press. I spent 17 years in the journalism field before coming to ADOC. I take bias, slander and other journalist ethics violations very seriously. I do enjoy the debate though. Still, ADOC will not continue to provide fuel for an opinion based "blog".

If you and or the visitors who are making these allegations are willing to file a lawsuit in this matter that is your right. However, visitation is not a right as stated. On those grounds alone I think you'd be wasting your time and money but that is up to you.

Because visitation is a privilege ADOC governs the rules thereof. One of the rules requires that visitors will be required to meet the following conditions: "Female visitors will not be permitted to enter the institution wearing shorts, halters and brief dresses. They will wear appropriate undergarments, including bras". This rule is in place for very common sense reasons, we do operate a prison system after all.

It is the visitors responsibility to make sure they are aware of all the rules and regulations regarding visitation before they attempt to enter. I agree this is a serious manner, therefore, your clients should obey the rules and wear underwear when trying to enter an ADOC prison facility as required.

Legal counsel should not be back in touch with me. Instead they should contact ADOC legal directly.


Brian Corbett


You'll notice Mr. Judge of journalistic standards got the name of my newspaper wrong and is suddenly signing respectfully. And that's where it stands. I haven't answered and what happens next is up to Loretta as the injured party. I'd like to pursue it though, not just for her, but for all the family members who are mistreated by the system.


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