You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

In violation of its own policy, jail gave prosecutors direct access to inmate phone calls, records ‘for years’

  • Updated
  • 2
jail 65.jpg

Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center

Prince William-Manassas jail officials violated their own record-sharing policies “over many years” to give local prosecutors direct access to inmate records and phone calls while preventing similar access to defense attorneys, according to two letters sent from jail officials to Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth in August. 

The letters have shed new light on a dispute between the jail, the commonwealth's attorney’s office and the public defender’s office over whether defense attorneys should have the same access as prosecutors to their incarcerated client’s records. Those records include inmate phone call recordings, text messages and other written correspondence – all of which are admissible as evidence in criminal cases. 

The commonwealth’s attorney’s office has historically been given open access to those records by the jail – an apparent violation of jail policy – while defense attorneys have been required to obtain those records through a time-consuming subpoena process. 

The now year-old local public defender’s office raised concerns about whether the jail was implementing their record-sharing rules fairly. The dispute appeared to arise from an ongoing criminal case. Ultimately, jail officials determined their record-sharing policies were not being carried out equally and took action to begin following their own policy in mid-August. 

Maj. Amanda Lambert, the jail’s director of support services, notified Ashworth on Aug. 16 that the jail would begin enforcing their existing policy. As a result, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office would need to obtain inmate records through a subpoena, and would no longer have direct access to them. 

“Unfortunately, a former employee chose to disregard our requirements and elected to provide [jail] records to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office over many years without supervisory knowledge, or contrary to direction,” Meletis said. “... We pride ourselves on being consistent and fair with all our external partners. The practice of permitting [jail] records to be obtained without a subpoena by your office but requiring it for others is not in the best interest of all stakeholders.” 

It remains unclear what repercussions could come from the recent revelations. Chief Public Defender Tracey Lenox said this week it likely will not have any impact on past convictions. 

The issue was partially resolved in mid-September after the Prince William-Manassas regional jail board reversed the jail’s record sharing policy at Ashworth’s request at their Sept. 15 meeting. The new policy allows prosecutors to once again have open access to the records of incarcerated individuals. 

Ashworth said during the meeting that access to those records was an urgent “public safety issue.”

The new policy allows prosecutors access, “without delay,” to a deluge of inmate records including recorded phone calls, text messages, tablet messages, recorded inmate visits, booking photos, visitor logs, copies of non-legal mail, intercepted written communication between inmates, discipline reports and housing records. 

Allowing commonwealth’s attorney’s offices access to the records of incarcerated individuals is common practice in Virginia.

Defense attorneys must still obtain a subpoena for inmate records. But the jail board left open the possibility that another resolution could be passed at an upcoming jail board meeting to further update their policy allowing defense attorneys easy access to their client's records. 

Incarcerated individuals are charged 11 cents per minute for phone calls and 25 cents per text message by a third-party vendor contracted by the jail. Incarcerated individuals are also charged when they use digital tablets provided by the same vendor for listening to music, playing games or watching television. 

In 2020, the jail collected $245,000 in annual revenues from phone calls and tablet use by incarcerated individuals, according to its annual report.

The Prince William-Manassas jail board will meet again in two months on Wednesday, Nov. 17. 

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.
0
0
0
0
0

2020 was a year marked by hardships and challenges, but the Prince William community has proven resilient. The Prince William Times is honored to serve as your community companion. To say thank you for your continued support, we’d like to offer all our subscribers -- new or returning --

4 WEEKS FREE DIGITAL AND PRINT ACCESS.

We understand the importance of working to keep our community strong and connected. As we move forward together into 2021, it will take commitment, communication, creativity, and a strong connection with those who are most affected by the stories we cover.

We are dedicated to providing the reliable, local journalism you have come to expect. We are committed to serving you with renewed energy and growing resources. Let the Prince William Times be your community companion throughout 2021, and for many years to come.

Subscribe

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

(2) comments

Jim McCarthy

Sadly, this article makes no reference to the First Amendment rights of the inmates; nor was the issue even posed to prosecutors. The point was ignored by citing the tactic is “common practice” in VA. Better reporting is needed.

Harry

So Sheriff Hill, Lambert and Meletis have no idea what goes on in the jail, it's likely that all three knew what was going on and endorsed it. All three need to resign immediately. All three were colluding to violate inmates constitutional rights. The Commonwealths Attorney General should initiate an investigation and the PWC Commonwealth's Attorney should refer the case to the Commonwealths Attorney in Fairfax or Loudoun to empanel a grand jury to indict all three.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Page Title

The future of Prince William Times now depends on community support. Your donation will help us continue to improve our journalism through in-depth local news coverage and expanded reader engagement.

Keeping you connected to the Community. Find or Submit your local event here..

Sign Up For Newsletters