State and federal prisons don’t let inmates use Internet computers behind bars; neither does Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Jail. Yet an inmate answered a reporter’s e-mails from the jail, and later an Ohio lockup, while he awaits sentencing for violating probation on a 900-number phone scam that cost AT&T $550,000 dollars, the Associated Press reports.
Thousands access the Internet indirectly using inmate telephone and mail privileges and a network of family, friends, or activists. Once on the Web, they enlist celebrities like Susan Sarandon to plead their case, criticize the prosecutors who imprisoned them, or find pen pals. Joe Weedon of the American Correctional Association says that a few prisons allowed Internet access “on a limited basis, but they ran into problems with offenders contacting their victims or inmates running scams of some sort.” Federal appellate courts are yet to hear a major case on inmates rights to access the Internet but victims’ advocates promise to fight them. Arizona inmates successfully challenged a state law that prohibited helping inmates access the Internet. The law came after a murder victim’s family complained about the killer’s Internet pen pal ad.