Inmate Internet Cases Provoke Free Speech Debate


When a friend sent Georgia inmate Danny Williams legal research downloaded from the Internet, prison guards confiscated the package, says USA Today. Officials said the material was prohibited under a 5-year-old regulation that bars inmates from receiving downloaded material. The policy is aimed at preventing inmates from gaining access to material on the Internet that could compromise security, such as bombmaking instructions.

Williams is challenging the policy in federal court. It is one of a series of cases in which inmates are seeking changes in regulations or state laws to try to use the Internet to do research or communicate with the outside world. Inmates do not have direct access to computers. However, some have used written correspondence with friends or family members to set up and maintain Web sites and e-mail accounts to air grievances, solicit legal assistance and express political views. Cases like Williams’, along with reports that death-row inmates in Texas have posted personal profiles on the social networking site – have fueled a debate over speech rights and how much contact prisoners should be allowed with the public in the Internet age.


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