Can Legislators Do Anything About “Facebook Felons”?


A “Facebook felon” bill working its way through the South Carolina legislature would impose a maximum $500 fine and as many as 30 more days in jail for any prisoner caught creating or using a Facebook or Twitter account, says the Christian Science Monitor. Some inmates are managing to get their hands on smart phones and surreptitiously tap out pithy updates, send messages to the outside world, and even post photos after lights-out.

For South Carolina state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a law-and-order Democrat, the use of social media by prisoners is “a slap in the face” to both society and to victims. Criminalizing cell block use of social media could infringe on First Amendment rights, some experts say. A new law could obscure the real problem now being brought to light in prisons: an unchecked flow of contraband, including drugs and cellphones. “This is a meaningless strategy that makes it look like you’re doing something about contraband and you’re not,” says Michele Deitch, a prison policy expert at the University of Texas at Austin. “Adding 30 days to someone’s sentence is not going to keep them from doing this. What needs to happen is better controls within the prison.”

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