This Electronic Plantation is For The Children

I recently read an excellent book called “Arrest-Proof Yourself” by one Dale Carson, a former law enforcement officer turned criminal defense attorney.  Mr. Carson coined a term called “The Electronic Plantation,” which he used to describe the digitization of law enforcement records.

The sum is this: Back when everything was in paper form, one could easily start a new life after being arrested by leaving town.  The records of arrests, convictions, and other scrapes with the law were kept in paper form, and usually remained with the clerk of the court, the Time Keeper of the local detention facility, or some other administrative official in touch with the government.  Now, everything is kept online, in centralized databases, and easily accessible to those with the appropriate tools and means.  The result is that once you are arrested, you become part of an “electronic planation.”  You are a slave to the system, and any prior convictions, arrests, or even field interrogation notes compiled by law enforcement are available with a quick scan of the driver license or a name entry into the cop’s onboard computer.  You never escape your past, and anything stupid you’ve done can and will be used against you.

Today I want to leave an impression in your head regarding DCS interaction: Everything you do with regards to the Department is compiled into a computer system and maintained by central backups in Nashville accessible by the Department’s laptops and desktops.  Every time you interact with a DCS investigator, you can bet their field notes are going into computers.  The pictures they take of your home and your children are digitized and get sent to backup servers in Nashville.  The Permanency Plans (which are a specious document I’ll discuss in a later post) are digitized, as are records of your interactions at the Child and Family Team Meetings.  And every parent who gets a Permanency Plan scanned into his or her electronic shackles gets a note flagged in their file that they’ve been presented with State printed copies of the Criteria and Procedures for Termination of Parental Rights.

Just like law enforcement, when you get on the Department’s “electronic plantation,” you are there for life. Just like law enforcement, when any subsequent interactions occur, the investigators can and will pull your file and make assumptions prior to speaking with you. Regardless of what you are told, just like with law enforcement, your file–and all the information in it–will be used against you in negotiations with the State. The difference is that individuals untrained in constitutional procedures making knee jerk reactions to your digital shackles are the ones making the decision as to whether you are a “substantial risk” to your children and therefore a Bad Parent who deserves to have their children shipped to foster care.

The scions of “legal parenting” have some of the same tools as law enforcement–investigative authority, search powers, the right to question suspects–and Tennessee only recently began applying consistent standards to these government actors. Why don’t we go further and treat our interactions with DCS the same as interactions with law enforcement? Is it “for the good of the children?”

Repeat after me:
DCS is a government agency.
DCS cannot search your home without a warrant.
If you talk to DCS, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
If you talk to DCS in their offices, or are asked to sign paperwork DCS provides, a case is likely being compiled against you.
Any interactions–even talking with a DCS worker on the street–will likely go into a permanent file in Nashville and used against you later if the need arises.
If DCS comes knocking, lock the door, record all interactions, and call an attorney.

If you’re not scared of this government overreach by now, wait until we get to the Child and Family Team Meetings and the Permanency Plan.

But that’s for next time. Right now I want to take a moment to thank each and every person who’s taken the time to read here. Comments, debates, and questions are always welcome on Twitter: @clsesq .

See you down the road.

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