How to make jail visitors comfortable: fingerprint them

Rikers IslandRikers Island, a notorious hellhole where arrested persons can enjoy their presumption of innocence behind bars while awaiting trial, has instituted a policy called Visitor Express, which according to the NYC Department of Corrections, “was developed with visitors’ comfort in mind.”

“Comfort” in the Orwellian vocabulary of Corrections, means that if you want to visit your friend or relative in jail, you’re “strongly encouraged” to be “biometrically registered,” i.e., fingerprinted.

“Visitors do not have to be fingerprinted in order to visit,” explained Acting Commissioner Cranston in a letter to inquiring Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell.  Why, in a 6-month period, a whopping 1,091 visitors out of a total of 23,592 “did not have fingerprints captured.” Cranston doesn’t say how many friends and family decided to forego the visit rather than risk having their prints entered into who-knows-what database.

What happens to a visitor who declines the comfort of being fingerprinted? According to the rules,  “The registration officer shall immediately notify the visit captain. The visit captain shall attempt to persuade the visitor to provide fingerprints. If all attempts to obtain the fingerprints fail, the visit captain shall override the fingerprint requirement” (emphasis added).

Here’s the story behind those 10,091 uncaptured fingerprints:

Visitor: Why do I have to be fingerprinted just to visit my grandmother?

Visit Captain: Nobody says you have to.  You’re only strongly encouraged. You can visit without being fingerprinted if all my attempts to persuade you fail (Pulling out a meat cleaver).

Visitor: (Hiding his hands behind his back) I know my rights! You can’t force me!

Visit Captain: Perish the thought, we’re just trying to make you comfortable.  You refuse to be printed, we can make your grandmother comfortable too.   

Visitor:  Just because I’m visiting someone in jail, you assume I’m a criminal!

Visit Captain: Only criminals object to being fingerprinted.

It looks like Operation Visitor Express (apparently unique to Rikers Island) is just another way of obtaining people’s prints on a hunch that they’re illegal or have an open warrant.  Like arresting certain types for jaywalking or taking up two seats in the subway.  Nonsense! says Commissioner Cranston.  Corrections wouldn’t dream of sharing the prints with the cops or the Feds Unless they ask for them, of course.

“Most importantly,”  Cranston explains, “fingerprinting means that no one can visit under a false name if he/she has been found with contraband in the past and suspended from visiting.”  He doesn’t say how often this happens, if at all,  considering that you have to show more i.d. to visit Rikers than to get into the Pentagon.

And lest you think these are desperadoes smuggling in dope and machine guns, “contraband,” according to the regulations, can be a cigarette or a candy bar.  Visitors may wear only “one layer of clothing,” although this rule is bafflingly contradicted by another rule requiring the wearing of underwear.

“Liquids and beverages” are also forbidden, “except two clear plastic bottles with non-alcoholic beverages for babies accompanying visitors,” eliminating all those weaning their infants on whiskey.

Tip o’ the hat to Monica Dula, Legal Aid attorney who squawked about the policy to her Community Board, who squawked to the Assemblyman.

About Appellate Squawk

A satirical blog for criminal defense lawyers and their friends who won't give up without a squawk.
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