South Carolina Says It's A Felony For Prisoners To Look At Facebook; Sends Many To Solitary Confinement

from the felony-facebooking dept

Dave Maass, over at EFF, has an absolutely insane story about how the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) added a special new level 1 felony charge (for reference: murder, rape, rioting and hostage-taking are all level 1 felonies) for... using a social network while in prison. Yes, these individuals are already prisoners, but this draconian law and even more draconian enforcement means that hundreds of South Carolina prisons are facing extended sentences and long stays in solitary confinement for... posting to their Facebook page. And that's not an exaggeration:
  • In October 2013, Tyheem Henry received 13,680 days (37.5 years) in disciplinary detention and lost 27,360 days (74 years) worth of telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 69 days of good timeall for 38 posts on Facebook. 
  • In June 2014, Walter Brown received 12,600 days (34.5 years) in disciplinary detention and lost 25,200 days (69 years) in telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 875 days (2.4 years) of good timeall for 35 posts on Facebook.
  • In May 2014, Jonathan McClain received 9,000 days (24.6 years) in disciplinary detention and lost 18,000 days (49 years) in telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 30 days of good timeall for 25 posts on Facebook.
  • Why so harsh? The SCDC says that it's a separate felony for each day that an inmate uses a social media site (oddly, you can do as much as you want in a single day and it's just a single felony -- but new day, new felony). And, of course, "social media" is defined broadly as well:

    South Carolina adopted a Level 1 social media offense [PDF] to punish “Creating and/or Assisting With A Social Networking Site,” defined as: “The facilitation, conspiracy, aiding, abetting in the creation or updating of an Internet web site or social networking site.”

    SCDC defines “social networking” very broadly, covering everything from YouTube and Twitter to blogs and email, although all of the cases EFF reviewed [PDF] involved Facebook. Investigations are conducted by corrections officers and inmates are convicted during disciplinary hearings that often last mere minutes.

    Since the policy was implemented, SCDC has brought 432 disciplinary cases against 397 inmates, with more than 40 inmates receiving more than two years in solitary confinement [PDF].

    There's a lot more to Maass's article, and it's well worth reading. He also takes Facebook to task for helping the SCDC takedown prisoners' Facebook profiles. Facebook has set up an easy form, which can lead to widespread abuse, and it doesn't appear that Facebook does much, if anything, to check to see if the accounts actually abuse the company's terms of service. There are lots of problems with the criminal justice and prison systems in the US, and there may be legitimate reasons to limit access to social media for prisoners (though that seems like a stretch in many cases). But to make it an additional felony and to lock up people for years because of it? How is that not cruel and unusual punishment?

    Filed Under: felony, scdc, social media, solitary confinement, south carolina, south carolina department of corrections
    Companies: facebook

    Reader Comments

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    1. icon
      That One Guy (profile), 13 Feb 2015 @ 6:38am

      When sadists run the prisons

      There is no possible excuse for such a completely insane punishment other than simply 'Because we can'.

      Allowing prisoners access to the internet, and then hitting them with felony level punishments for using it 'wrong', with 'wrong' in this case being 'How the vast majority of people online use it', is absolutely insane, and not even remotely reasonable or fair.

      Another indicator that the policy is simply to screw with the lives of the prisoners and watch them suffer is this: If interacting with sites like Facebook is grounds for a felony, then why can the prisoners access it at all? Why isn't it completely blocked, such that they couldn't access it on the prison's network, rather than accessible, but with a massive cudgel poised over the head of anyone who goes to the site?

      If posting to social media is going to be treated as a felony, this horrible crime that deserves decades of prison time, the only possible reason it could even be possible to access any sites that would qualify under the policy as a 'social media site' is if they want the prisoners to go to those sites, just so they can slam them with extra prison time.

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