Anchorage jail secretly, accidentally recorded attorney-client conversations

The Alaska Department of Corrections has revealed that it accidentally recorded conversations between lawyers and their jailed clients at Anchorage Correctional Complex.

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Such conversations are confidential and protected under the legal doctrine of attorney-client privilege.

According to Corrections officials, the recording took place over a four-year period, from 2012 to 2016. Officials said the automated recordings occurred only in one visitation room and that none of them were used by law enforcement officers or prosecutors.

First reported Monday by the Anchorage Daily News, the revelation that a room at the Anchorage jail was essentially bugged has upset some local defense attorneys.

“One of the bedrock principles of the criminal justice system is completely confidential communications between an attorney and their client,” state Public Defender Quinlan Steiner said. “If people believe that their conversations are being listened to by the state, that would undermine due process and undermine the constitutionally fair system.”

Steiner said Corrections officials have told him and other defense attorneys that the recordings were not used to prosecute their clients. But Steiner said just the notion that such recordings took place could hurt an attorney’s ability to advise their client.

“What’s important about an issue like this is making sure that it’s not happening and there’s confidence that it’s not happening in the future,” Steiner said. “It’s critical for an exchange of information, somebody getting the best advice they can.”

According to Corrections spokesperson Megan Edge, visitation rooms are normally equipped with video cameras for safety reasons. But Edge said audio recording should not have occurred.

The audio recording equipment was installed in the room when suspected serial killer Israel Keyes was jailed at the complex in 2012, Edge said. Federal investigators had hoped to learn more about Keyes by recording his conversations with friends or family in the room, which had until then been used for attorney-client conversations, Edge said.

Edge said the room went back to being used for attorney visits after Keyes died.

“And there was a change-up in the leadership at the Anchorage Correctional Complex,” Edge said. “Very few people had knowledge of this other recording device. It was just kind of forgotten that it was in there.”

Files on the recording device were overwritten every 30 days, and that the last batch of recordings has been destroyed, Edge said.

Steiner, the public defender, said there has so far been no reason to think that the recordings were ever used by the state. But he said some defense attorneys are still looking through their cases to determine if further litigation is necessary.