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December 2, 2010

Should an inmate be able to use Facebook?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this ABC News story which is headlined "Convicted Murderer Justin Walker Used a Blackberry to Talk to Friends on Facebook While in Prison."  Here is how it begins:

The mother of an Oklahoma man who was shot to death is furious that her son's killer was able to get a Blackberry in his cell and has been corresponding with friends and posting photos on Facebook.

Cathy Lawrence, the mother of slain Sheriff Dwight Woodrell Jr., told ABCNews.com that Justin Walker, the man serving a 30-year sentence for her son's murder, doesn't deserve to be alive, let alone to be updating his Facebook status.

December 2, 2010 at 03:56 PM | Permalink


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Well, the facts here make this access to communications technology like facebook sound harmless, but what about gang leaders using facebook and other tech to coordinate their operations from behind bars. Given that this was a problem even before the internet revolution, it seems like bad policy to make it even easier for gang leaders to coordinate activities.

I think of a nightmare scenario of a gang leader sitting in lockup awaiting trial using the internets to order intimidating acts against potential witnesses.

Posted by: T.O. | Dec 2, 2010 4:24:52 PM

Is it really even a question? The inmate accessed Facebook illegally.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Dec 2, 2010 5:49:35 PM

Social networking has become a norm of communication in free society, between friends and as a means of gaining friends, for millions of people in the US and around the world. Increasingly the prisons will fill with persons experienced in this activity. The demand for access will only grow. IF such activity is proven to be susceptible to abuse across certain categories of prisoners, who may otherwise have legitimate access to the Internet in prison, then such categories may warrant restriction or denial. However, it always alarms me to read that such access has been found to have been achieved by illegitimate means - through the use of mobile phones smuggled into prisons. It appears that more often than not, the real problem is the smuggling in by visitors or by prison staff. Always, the general response of authorities is to punish the greater prison population for the transgression, regardless of innocence, rather than solve the primary problem which is the inefficiency of visitor monitoring, and the actual and potential illegal behavior of some prison staff. There is also the risk that prisoners who have no access or control of websites (the vast majority), will be penalized for the efforts of friends and relatives intending to draw attention to the plight of inmates and to gain support for them by way of penpals and for legal funding. There is no way that this official response is either legal or fair. Prison authorities and others need to accept that freedom of speech, freedom of protest, and freedom of supportive action cannot and should not be denied to friends and relatives of inmates. Most inmates are expected to rejoin society after serving their sentence. It is in the interests of everyone that they have a support network to return to. Those who may not have the opportunity to rejoin the free society have a right to at least be connected with it through friendships. In other instances there may be genuine issues of innocence etc which need help for exposure from external third parties.
This is a complex issue which therefore requires a carefully considered review and monitoring, rather than the typically knee-jerk reaction from those whose only response to criminality is to bury the convicted in concrete or execute them.
With regard to the actual case highlighted here by Doug, the mothers' wrath should be directed to lax prison authorities whose inefficiency allowed the Blackberry access to occur (assuming that it should not have been) - not to the inmate who by human nature will seek to maximize opportunity for human contact, however remote.

Posted by: peter | Dec 2, 2010 6:19:08 PM

someone needs to tell madame cathy to GET A LIFE! and let it go! I have no problem with social network sites in fact it thing everyone should be legally allowed to access them...since they are the new MAIN way people today connect. But i also think those in prison need that access monitored for criminal activities via some type of automatic keyword system like the fbi uses now.

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 2, 2010 11:59:11 PM

Grits has already made the point. This inmate was not allowed to have a cell phone or access to the internet. When it was discovered that he did, the access was confiscated and he was returned to a higher security level. All inmate communication is monitored.

Posted by: beth | Dec 3, 2010 12:28:16 AM

i am an interested laywoman. wouldn't the same laws apply that are already in place for outside communications? packages are checked and ground mail. it's just a simple step to monitoring facebook, etc. without denying inmates what a some potential for rehabilitating usefulness. the only catch i can see here harkens back to the use of song dedications in the fifties and sixties as code for rumbles. perhaps it could be restricted to those inmates with the best profiles for societal intergration at their release? thank you for reading this message!

Posted by: j.trumeau | Dec 10, 2010 2:43:03 PM

I really think they should have harsher punishments for certain offenses. For instance, that the lockups/prisons should have laws, and if those laws are violated, tack it on to their sentence. I have known a lot of people who have been in and out (and in and out again) of the prison/correctional systems and have been fearful of going there myself but The fact of the matter is, is that there are people that deserved to be there, and people who had a bad day, or made some bad decisions. While those who still have a bit of ethical conscience to them serve time, there are those who don't, and get out, and go right back to the same shit they were doing, they are just more careful this time, about what they do and ESPECIALLY about what they say. They are liars. The people who are in these facilities deserve NO rights whatsoever and if they keep disobeying rules (LAWS) while in prison, why would you ever expect them to change? The man who shot the officer of the law I'm sure laughs about it, and would probably torment the family if given the oppurtunity. How can anyone (in their right mind) say that person deserves to live? There are TOO MANY PEOPLE to begin with. This system has failed.

Posted by: tinkertowny | Dec 14, 2010 4:07:13 PM

Legal As She Is Spoke, New York Law School's legal journalism blog analyzes how punishing a prisoner for using Facebook violates his First Amendment rights: http://www.lasisblog.com/2011/04/06/help-i%e2%80%99ve-been-facebook-poked-by-a-prisoner/

Posted by: LASIS_BLOG | Apr 6, 2011 11:32:44 AM

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