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Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF: Hundreds of S. Carolina Prisoners Sent To Solitary For Social Media Use 176

According to the EFF's Deep LInks, Through a request under South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, EFF found that, over the last three years, prison officials have brought more than 400 hundred disciplinary cases for "social networking" — almost always for using Facebook. The offenses come with heavy penalties, such as years in solitary confinement and deprivation of virtually all privileges, including visitation and telephone access. In 16 cases, inmates were sentenced to more than a decade in what’s called disciplinary detention, with at least one inmate receiving more than 37 years in isolation. ... The sentences are so long because SCDC issues a separate Level 1 violation for each day that an inmate accesses a social network. An inmate who posts five status updates over five days, would receive five separate Level 1 violations, while an inmate who posted 100 updates in one day would receive only one. In other words, if a South Carolina inmate caused a riot, took three hostages, murdered them, stole their clothes, and then escaped, he could still wind up with fewer Level 1 offenses than an inmate who updated Facebook every day for two weeks.
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EFF: Hundreds of S. Carolina Prisoners Sent To Solitary For Social Media Use

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:05PM (#49042253)

    When can we start punishing non-inmates for this offense?

    • They already do: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02... [nytimes.com]
      • by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @07:14PM (#49043391)

        Society needs its demons.

        I've repeated this numerous times, and I'll repeat it again: Few people are interested in actual justice. Most of them just want somebody that they can publicly rail against for the sole purpose of making themselves feel righteous. It has nothing to do with righting any wrong.

        It's not just the police, the prison guards, or the judges that are guilty of it. It's a systemic problem. Some of the worst bullies I've seen are those who target supposed bullies.

        • Society needs its demons.

          I've repeated this numerous times, and I'll repeat it again: Few people are interested in actual justice. Most of them just want somebody that they can publicly rail against for the sole purpose of making themselves feel righteous. It has nothing to do with righting any wrong.

          It's not just the police, the prison guards, or the judges that are guilty of it. It's a systemic problem. Some of the worst bullies I've seen are those who target supposed bullies.

          Prisons are "For profit institutions". What another way to extend a prisoner's stay and another few dollars of revenue.

    • by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @08:54PM (#49044113)

      When can we start punishing non-inmates for this offense?

      EFF may back these prisoners using FaceBook. But if RMS, who is a major backer of EFF, had his way, then the prisoners are being made to do exactly what he wants everybody to do - avoid FaceBook. Had EFF checked w/ RMS, he'd have told them that this is a good thing.

      The proper solution to this would be to sentence SC prisoners to deal only w/ GNU Social. Which is GNU's AGPL3 licensed social networking site. Prison officials should provide them computers that can only access that, and maybe eliminate browsers from the computers being used. Heck, let's provide all prisoners w/ Libre-Linux computers running only GPL3 software, and then tell them that that's all they're allowed to use.

      After all, they are prisoners for a reason. };-)

      • This is an impressive display of putting words into people's mouths. You are aware there's a massive difference between someone saying "I think it'd be better if people did X and didn't do Y" and them saying "People should be forced to do X, and punished for doing Y"?

        I'd say you don't understand nuance, but this isn't even at that level. It's a ludicrously over the top mis-extrapolation of someone's views. This kind of "debate", a refusal to listen to what people actually say, and attempts to make them l

  • Media (Score:1, Insightful)

    by kcwhitta ( 232438 )

    It'll be interesting to see how long it takes for the mainstream media to run with this.

  • I don't see why inmates need access to it at all. They can find plenty of other ways to not be productive.
    • Who suggested it was a right?
    • by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:14PM (#49042341) Homepage Journal
      Like being in prison?

      Looks to me like they're already disallowed Facebook access, since it lands them in Solitary. I'm guessing this is mostly a "covert communication with the outside" type violation though. The prisons are trying to prevent gang leaders/drug lords/etc... from running their empires while locked up. Plus, they don't get to rip off the prisoners with their massively inflated telephone fees.
      • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @06:47PM (#49043221) Journal

        I'm guessing this is mostly a "covert communication with the outside" type violation though. The prisons are trying to prevent gang leaders/drug lords/etc... from running their empires while locked up.

        Not to mention, those who would harass the victims of their crimes or plot escape with outside help. There are some serious considerations involved in the social ostracism of convicts.

        To be fair, there are undoubtedly folks in prison for victimless crimes.

        The thing is, there are some real deal malevolent maternal copulaters who richly deserve to be there. It's difficult enough to make rules in society that are fair to everyone, and the prison systems are not run by folks who will suffer much insomnia for applying rules that err on the side of caution.

    • by buchner.johannes ( 1139593 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:17PM (#49042365) Homepage Journal

      I don't see why inmates need access to it at all. They can find plenty of other ways to not be productive.

      When did Social Media use become an offense? If you can have visitors and make phone calls, why not Internet access. Or vice versa, if you are in solitary confinement, why did they have internet access?

      And what on Earth is the point in punishing this? Who gains anything by punishment?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:25PM (#49042437)

        What the sensational article deliberately ignores is what these prisoners were doing ... running gangs on smuggled phones.

        • by tchdab1 ( 164848 )

          Don't running gangs and smuggling phones have their own penalties? Does it matter (illegal activity) if it's done via FB, or via carrier pigeon, or via verbal whispering? It's the illegal activity that should be being prosecuted, not the online access. And doing it online just provides a neat "paper" trail - ask your friends in Utah for a dump of every I/O from your devices.

          • by dywolf ( 2673597 )

            Ah but you forget. The current jurisprudence is to throw everything at them and see what sticks....and if it just so happens to be everything and they get a 10000 year sentence as a result.... oh well.

            'Murica.
            Land of the Free.

      • by g0bshiTe ( 596213 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:48PM (#49042633)
        "Who gains anything by punishment?"

        The privatized prison system can then charge more for the offender as the stay has been extended.

        To OP there that thinks it's so they can't run a criminal business, in some form or another gang leaders have been running their organizations from behind bars in some cases decades before the creation of the internet.

        What's the difference?
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The private prisons, of course. 48 out of 50 states have a contract stating they will keep 90% or more bed occupancy or else face fines.

        Private prisons also mean the private prison lobby... DAs have to press charges or else they get voted out. Judges have to have a conviction ratio or else be replace by judges who will hand out long sentences and convict. Even PDs are pressed to demand that defendants plead.

        • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @08:34PM (#49044011)

          The private prisons, of course. 48 out of 50 states have a contract stating they will keep 90% or more bed occupancy or else face fines.

          Well, no.

          27 States have one or more privately operated prisons.

          The 48 (and 90%) number(s) comes from a letter sent to 48 governors OFFERING to buy and run their prison systems privately.

          And NONE of the States accepted the offer. not one.

          • by nobuddy ( 952985 )

            The information needs to be correct when addressing a societal wrong. Inflating numbers never works, people wind up focusing on the inflation and ignoring the issue.

            Any number above 0% in any state that is privately run is an outrage.

      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        For obvious reasons - because they don't want crims making unmonitored communications with their buddies / accomplices on the outside.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Therefore, accessing a social media site should result in a decade or more of additional punishment. QED, amiright?

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:32PM (#49042497)

      I don't see why inmates need access to it at all.

      Because social connections reduce recidivism.

      America imprisons more people than any other country. On a per-capita basis we imprison more than Russia, Saudia Arabia, Cuba, and four times as many as China. We spend more on prisons than the rest of the world combined. Yet we have one of the worse recidivism rates. It would be hard to design a dumber system even if you tried. Enforcing social isolation just makes it even worse.

      • by JoeIsuzu83 ( 1005645 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:54PM (#49042699)

        America imprisons more people than any other country. On a per-capita basis we imprison more than Russia, Saudia Arabia, Cuba, and four times as many as China. We spend more on prisons than the rest of the world combined. Yet we have one of the worse recidivism rates. It would be hard to design a dumber system even if you tried. Enforcing social isolation just makes it even worse.

        Excellent point. So maybe if we just replicate the prison conditions of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China--
        Would that reduce recidivism? Goodbye, Facebook!

        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          actually, you could still end up with less prisoners? which is kind of funny since those countries are known to put people in prison just for having an opinion and have even stricter drug/substance laws..

          were they using the facebook access to run a gang and to arrange mass murders? no? don't add 100 years to their sentence then if you don't want outsiders to think you have a fucked up justice system. ...actually is the result of the piss poor justice system you have from start to end, including prosecutor d

      • by aberglas ( 991072 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @06:11PM (#49042891)

        Reducing recidivism is un-American, because it works against the greatest prison system in the world.

    • When did facebook become a right?

      I don't think anyone's saying it should be, are they?

    • by f3rret ( 1776822 )

      I don't see why inmates need access to it at all. They can find plenty of other ways to not be productive.

      It's not a question of Facebook or whatever being a "right", it is about the punishment for using Facebook is out of proportion to the violation.

  • you control the outside.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How do they even have access to Facebook? Don't they use HTTP proxies? Almost feels like entrapment.

    • I was thinking the same thing. I see this as a massive misappropriation of tax payers' funds. I don't know what the accountants would say on the issue, but I'd imagine that isolation has a higher cost to the tax payer than general population since the convict needs everything brought to them in special quarters built to what I can only assume is a higher standard.

      A simple firewall with some sort of websense technology should be more than satisfactory to limit the use of these networks by the inmates. I'm su
      • I was thinking the same thing. I see this as a massive misappropriation of tax payers' funds. I don't know what the accountants would say on the issue, but I'd imagine that isolation has a higher cost to the tax payer than general population since the convict needs everything brought to them in special quarters built to what I can only assume is a higher standard. A simple firewall with some sort of websense technology should be more than satisfactory to limit the use of these networks by the inmates. I'm sure it's an issue of "If you build a bigger mouse trap, I'll build a bigger mouse", but there is definitely a finite number of social networking sites out there and I'm pretty sure that there's a room full of near-slaves working in a sweatshop somewhere in the East which are constantly updating those web sense filters. Here's an even better idea, why not actually track HTTP POST requests to unknown sites as well. This way, when the inmate clicks a button to post something and the websense filter doesn't know how to handle that request, an administrator somewhere on duty will immediately see their screen and then click whether it should be allowed or not. This will allow the inmates to apply to online universities to assist in their rehab while mindless blocking known "Red Zones" like Facebook. I can't imagine that we'd need more than one person on duty for an entire prison corporation during one shift per day ....

        That would be really good but you know, they ain't connecting via wifi so all that might as well be noise. In the article they say about signal blocking the area but the FCC comes down hard on it so they're trying to figure something out. Apparently a couple other states have a solution and they are looking to get on that but yeah, they still won't be connecting via wifi.

    • I'd ask the other round, why do they not have access to Facebook?

      Is there any reason besides assholery to not let them use social media? Is the goal of the US prison system to guarantee that inmates become 100% sociopaths with no friends or acquaintances except for criminals?

  • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:14PM (#49042345) Homepage

    How is communicating on Facebook different than making phone calls or sending letters to the outside world?

  • How (Score:3, Insightful)

    by irrational_design ( 1895848 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:17PM (#49042361)
    How in the world are they posting to facebook? Are they using smuggled in devices, or are they using devices provided by the prison system? If the later, why don't they just block access to facebook at a level where the inmates can't override it?
    • Re:How (Score:5, Informative)

      by irrational_design ( 1895848 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:24PM (#49042425)
      Nevermind. Who would have thought the article would actually have useful information? "Some inmates ask their families to access their online accounts for them, while many access the Internet themselves through a contraband cell phone (possession of which is yet another Level 1 offense)." Having the inmates be punished for something someone does on the outside seems ridiculous. Though, the prison authorities probably don't know whether it was done by someone on the outside or by a contraband device, so they appear to be assuming that it must be happening via a contraband device.
      • Re:How (Score:5, Insightful)

        by medv4380 ( 1604309 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:49PM (#49042643)
        So if I create a fake facebook page for each of their inmates and have each of them auto update the status once a day then they'll never get out of jail?
      • Having the inmates be punished for something someone does on the outside seems ridiculous.

        It's not ridiculous at all.

        The family member is being used as a courier.

        • Having the inmates be punished for something someone does on the outside seems ridiculous.

          It's not ridiculous at all.

          The family member is being used as a courier.

          The family member can be used as a courier.

          It is ridiculous in some situations and not others.

        • That's true. But, the family member/friend might know the inmates password (or might share an account with them) and be posting without their knowledge. I have teenage daughters, and despite my frequent warnings, they share their passwords with their friends, and vice versa. So the inmate would be punished for something they have no control over.
          • Or, what if their account is hacked (who knew 123456 is a poor password !?) by a rival/enemy/etc. who then precedes to post to their account, knowing that it will result in punishment for them.
  • I expect that would lead to a slightly reduced sentence for time served...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I expect that would lead to a slightly reduced sentence for time served...

      Especially if they're using Beta.

  • by bondsbw ( 888959 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:22PM (#49042413)

    Usage of social media is equivalent to unsupervised communication with people outside the prison walls. To my knowledge this has always been a big deal and whatever technology is used shouldn't make much of a difference in punishment. Even seemingly innocent communications can be forms of steganography.

    Also, I'm pretty sure inmates who commit murder will be charged with murder.

  • Fluf story (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dorianny ( 1847922 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:26PM (#49042443) Journal
    The offense is unauthorized communications. Facebook posts are convenient proof of that offense. Someone with access to a telecommunications device could be ordering gangland hits just as easily as liking someone on Facebook.
    • by dywolf ( 2673597 )

      That is true, however there is an unequal application problem as presented as well.
      Such as the "1 offense every 5 days" being punished more than 100 offenses in a single day,
      along with the long standing controversy over excessive solitary confinement.

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:28PM (#49042473) Journal
    Three things:
    1. This really is a punishment grossly disproportionate with the magnitude of the rule broken.
    2. If they don't want them using Facebook, then why isn't it blocked on all computers that inmates have access to?
    3. Using Facebook is punishment enough in and of itself, why add insult to injury over it?
  • There's no money for the prison vendors when an inmate uses Facebook. Those calls aren't cheap, and neither are letters. Count on these folks being able to use social media when there's an app to give the state and some contractor a cut of a fee for each post collected from the family of the incarcerated.

  • 37 Years??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Random Nobody ( 3857591 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:38PM (#49042553)
    I assume they mean solitary when they say isolation. I don't care what "crime" these cons did on the inside, unless you're talking about Magneto and his plastic cell no one should be in solitary for 37 years.

    Long term use of the SHU seems to be used as punishment, or more appropriately a form of torture. I can barely imagine the psychological and physical damage of being in the SHU for that long. We may as well be blasting loud music 24/7 and practice forced feedings while we're at it.

    If you're so worried about communicating outside the prison and apparently unable to control smartphones from getting inside then maybe you should start looking at Faraday cages or jamming signals. I'm sure the FCC would give an exception given enough proof that these communications were actually resulting in gang activity.
    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      no one should be in solitary for 37 years.

      Everyone knows that solitary confinement is the quickest way out of prison. There are many documentary movies from Hollywood that prove it: Count of Monte Cristo, Shawshank Redemption, Felon, Escape Plan, Law Abiding Citizen,.... and those are just the ones I've seen recently.

  • Fortunately, the screws know what slashdot is like and it doesn't count as "social media". More like asocial media.
  • The question remains, how were the prison workers who allowed this in the first place punished?

  • Big Business (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @05:44PM (#49042611) Homepage

    I used to think that inmates talking about prison being a business was bullshit. Then I see how many prisons are privately run and how deals are made to keep that at a certain capacity. Then think of all the support companies that sell items to prisons (clothing, food, equipment, employees, etc etc). Then you look at the incarceration rate of the USA compared to other countries and it all becomes clear.

  • All the Level 1 offenses in the world can't make their prison stay LONGER than what they were originally sentenced for. It just makes their time in prison more boring- it's punishment because they shouldn't have access to phones in the first place, because inmates run their gangs and can make hits on officers and civilians from behind prison walls using the internet. So the comparison between an Inmate accessing facebook for 2 weeks getting more severe punishment than an inmate who murders people is ludic
  • It seems to me that using Facebook is its own punishment. They should reduce their sentences for voluntary self-torture, not lengthen them.
  • In other words, if a South Carolina inmate caused a riot, took three hostages, murdered them, stole their clothes, and then escaped, he could still wind up with fewer Level 1 offenses than an inmate who updated Facebook every day for two weeks.

    Okay. How do we get that punishment implemented out in the world?

  • I never understood why prisons are mandated to install cell jammers around the entire prison. This simple solution would a) prevent violent and dangerous criminals from being able to communicate with cohorts outside of prison, and b) prevent corrupt guards from profiting through providing criminals with cellular contraband.

    • Err, I never understood why prisons are NOT mandated to install....

    • by crow ( 16139 )

      I just heard a story the other day about prisons installing cell towers that only work with a small list of specific devices (owned by staff). It's a lot like using a Stingray, only being for blocking access instead of monitoring it.

      Apparently keeping out unauthorized cell phones is simply too difficult.

      • Apparently keeping out unauthorized cell phones is simply too difficult.

        Are you volunteering to check the anus of everyone going in and out of prison?

        • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @07:13PM (#49043385) Homepage Journal

          Probably not. It seems that he was talking in generals, not going for a sarcastic implication that the guards are incompetent.

          Besides corrupt and incompetent guards you also have inmates and outside conspirators who get incredibly creative in their efforts to smuggle stuff into prisons.

          Prisoner anuses is only one of many vectors. In one case they had a cat trained to travel between the outside and inside with the contraband tied to her collar. She got food on both ends. A CAT!!! They trained a bloody CAT to run stuff!

          They've also found devices being floated by balloon, launched by catapult and pneumatic launchers, trawled up backwards through the sewer system, etc...

          Imagine that you're trying to keep several hundred bored engineering college students from doing something. How well is that going to work? The average inmate intelligence might be less, but you do have quite a few intelligent ones in there, and really, what else are they going to do?

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @06:11PM (#49042893)

    I know this sounds terribly traditional, but what could be wrong with sending a friend a letter in which you give instructions to post an update to social media on your behalf? I'm sure that all letters from prison would be read to make sure they're not carrying out something illegal, but it's not illegal for the friend to post an online update, right?

    Or how about this: The friend starts a blog called "Letters From Sam in Jail" and just posts a scan of each letter received. That's a clear case where the prisoner is (indirectly) blogging, but nobody is doing something wrong. Right?

  • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @06:11PM (#49042901)

    4:30PM: wrapping shank handle
    6:00PM: meat balls cold noodles
    1:00AM: hooked sum smokes from the line
    1:01AM: i hate menthol
    2:24PM: finished shank! check teh pic itz bad ass
    4:01PM: lawyer sez my appeal isup next week. coolz
    7:10PM: sharpen shank. it was sharp but lolz
    9:00AM: powdered eggs again
    1:15PM: emilio took the shank :( :( :( :( fucking hate that puta
    6:05PM: meat balls rice

  • Prison is a punishment.
    It is supposed to take that person out of society because society doesn't want them. Letting them back in through social media defeats the purpose.

    • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Thursday February 12, 2015 @07:19PM (#49043445) Homepage Journal

      It is supposed to take that person out of society because society doesn't want them. Letting them back in through social media defeats the purpose.

      The issue is quite a bit more complex than that. For example, there are THREE primary goals/duties for prisons:
      1. Punish, as you said.
      2. Warehouse - prevent more crime by isolating the individual from the rest of us
      3. Reform - because they most likely get out sometime, we need to fix whatever causes them to be criminal in the first place, if possible.

      You have to balance the three duties, and I'd argue that the US system needs to add a hefty dose of #3, and social media, communication can help *a lot* with this. The vast majority of prisoners are NOT drug kingpins who will order hits from prison if they're allowed to communicate with the outside.

      • Yep, I live in a country where the primary goal of the prison system is rehabilitation - you can get out in 10 years for murder.
        But the EFF kicking up a tizz, trying to convince people that inmates have a right to Facebook is the wrong way to go about fixing the system.

        • by moeinvt ( 851793 )

          If the inmates aren't allowed to use facebook or other social networking websites, why the hell isn't the prison just blocking them? Schools, businesses and public libraries seem capable of denying access to certain URLs, why not the prisons?
          Putting someone in front of a computer with internet access and then punishing them for using certain websites borders on entrapment.

  • more than 400 hundred disciplinary cases for "social networking"

    So, that means more than 40 000 cases, for us non-USAsians? That's just insane.

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