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Recently Facebook Inc. has been working with the state of California concerning incarcerated prisoners who were illegally updating Facebook pages through the use of contraband cell phones and friends outside the prison.
Facebook has agreed to take down the Facebook page of any prisoner who has had his or her account updated either by that individual or by friends outside the prison. Any prisoner who had an existing account prior to being incarcerated will not have their pages deleted.
Prisons do not allow inmates to have cell phones, but, according to the NY Times January 2, 2011 article on the subject, they are often able to obtain these devices by bribing prison guards with up to $1,000 for a single phone.
While visitors are searched both on the way in and out of the prison, guards are not subject to the same searches. Currently, if a guard is found smuggling contraband into the prisoners, the guard is usually fired but no criminal charges are brought.
This has led Senator Alex Padilla to try to have Bill 26 passed in the next few weeks. If it is signed into law, it would make any corrections officer or civilian that provides a prisoner with a cell phone a crime punishable with up to a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Additionally, the inmate who is found with the device would lose “non-restorable loss of time credit.”
This would increase the amount of time the inmate has to spend in prison before he can get out early on good behavior. If the cell phone was involved in any crime that was committed, an additional 2-5 years would be added to the individual’s sentence.
The main motivation for prohibiting inmates from being able to maintain their Facebook accounts is to prevent continuing criminal activity and to protect any possible past victims from being contacted or stalked by their perpetrator.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recently explained in their periodic newsletter on August 8 that a California inmate had sent accurate, up to date drawings of one of his victims to her home. He had been convicted of child abuse involving the victim seven years prior when the victim was ten years of age.
It was later determined that he had illegally acquired a phone with internet access and used the device to view his victim’s Facebook and Myspace pages, and then used the photos for his drawings.
This problem with prisoners illegally accessing the internet while incarcerated has only become a serious problem in the last few years. The CDCR newsletter reported that while in 2006 only 261 contraband phones were found in the possession of inmates, in 2010 that number jumped to over 7,284.
The increase in the availability and speed of portable internet through the use of smart phones is what has led the CDCR to elicit help from Facebook Inc. This intended to limit the criminal activity that is occurring within the prison system while they work to reduce the number of cell phones that fall into the hands of the incarcerated.
If you suspect that a Facebook account is being updated by an inmate or another person on behalf of the inmate, you can contact the CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights & Services toll free at 1-877-256-OVSS (6877) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.