Death Row Inmates On The Net: Free Speech Hurting Victims?


From San Quentin Prison’s death row, scores of California’s most notorious convicts have been reaching out to the free world via the Internet, reports the Los Angeles Times. Prisoners are barred from direct computer access that officials say could allow them to threaten witnesses or orchestrate crimes. Thanks to supporters and commercial services, many of the 673 condemned inmates now have pen-pal postings and personalized Web pages with their writings, artwork, and photos of themselves — often accompanied by declarations of innocence and pleas for friendship and funds. The nonprofit Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty has created Web pages or pen-pal ads for more than 100 California death row inmates. The site, unlike some others, is free.

Civil libertarians applaud the development as the exercise of free speech by isolated people; victims’ rights activists decry it as an unnecessary affront to the loved ones of those whose suffering led society to lock up these prisoners. “It’s hurtful,” said Christine Ward of the Crime Victims Action Alliance. “They are seeing a [convicted] person going on with their life, but the person they raised or married or knew does not get that opportunity. [] That murdered person is not coming back.” Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, said survivors simply should steer clear of sites that would be painful to see. Missouri adopted a rule last year, similar to one in Florida, prohibiting inmates from soliciting pen pals on the Internet, saying that several had been scamming their new friends.


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