Is Your Witness or Defendant Incarcerated?

Serving legal documents to an individual in prison has its challenges. There are several factors that dictate the process, including whether the witness or defendant is in federal or state prison, the level of security and custody level, and the process of the prison housing the individual.

If you’ve got a subpoena or other legal document to serve on an incarcerated witness or defendant, here’s what you need to know before you call your process server:

Federal Prisons

There are four custody levels for federal prisons: minimum security, low security, medium security, and high security.

These security levels range from dorm-style housing with basic fencing systems to solid walls with reinforced fencing with prisoners housed in cells. Federal prisons also have administrative facilities that house inmates from all levels of custody as they await trial, transfer, or receive medical help.

Many states only allow service of process by law enforcement officers in federal prisons. This may mean, in order to get your documents served, you will be required to contact local law enforcement instead of a process server, and could delay your timeline for effecting service if the law enforcement agency is slow.

Because of this, it’s best to attempt service of process to a federal prison as soon as possible instead of delaying.

State Prisons

State prisons also have four levels of custody: minimum, medium, close, and maximum.

Minimum custody inmates are considered at low risk and may work on community work crews. Inmates housed in maximum custody facilities are housed in single cells and must be escorted when moving throughout the prison and also wear restraints.

Serving papers to a state prison can be done either by law enforcement or a process server, but there are a few things that we, as process servers, have to keep in mind when serving state prisons. These include:

  • Prisons can be dangerous, and process servers must carefully follow the directions of all prison staff at all times
  • Process servers must be approved to serve at state prisons, something that’s handled by conducting a criminal history background check using the National Crime Information Center or a similar state-based system
  • Inmates may not be immediately available when a process server arrives
  • Items that may be brought into the prison are limited, so many process servers opt to enter the facility carrying just their identification, car keys, and the papers to be served
  • All staples, paperclips, and binder clips must be removed from papers to be served

While the above items don’t make serving process in a state prison impossible, they do complicate things somewhat. This means, to ensure that your papers get served promptly and correctly, it’s best to forward them to your process server as soon as possible.

Why Custody Level Matters

The custody level dictates what level of contact, if any, the inmate is allowed to have with visitors and how much time they spend out of their cell.

High security and maximum custody prisons have strict schedules that dictate where inmates must be, and defendants in minimum security prisons may work off-site.

All of these factors will be considered by the corrections officer when determining when and where process may be served.

Serving Legal Process on an Inmate

It’s important to remember that the safety and effectiveness of the prison depends on the staff adhering to a strict routine. Visitors, including process servers, need to submit to that routine and understand that they are a visitor under the control of the staff once they enter.

Before serving process, the first step is to contact the staff at the prison and ask about the process for serving an inmate.

If the prison allows a private process server to serve documents, the process server must submit to a criminal background check. Once the background check clears, a corrections officer will coordinate with the process server and the rest of the prison staff to determine when, where, and how process will be served.

It’s generally not a good idea to show up without contacting the prison and walking through the process first.

Process Service for Inmates Nationwide

At Torri’s Legal Services, we’re practiced at serving legal process in prisons across the nation. Our team of skilled professional process servers can get your defendant or witness served, leaving you with one less thing to worry about. Contact our team today for a quote!

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