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California: No Facebook for Inmates

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    NEWSLETTERS

    David Parkinson via National Weather Service Data

    Thousands of inmates in California's state prisons have access to contraband mobile phones and are updating their Facebook accounts, and now the state is asking the social network to close them down.

    The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported that more than 7,284 contraband mobile phones were found in state prisons in the first six months of 2011. In 2006, that number was only 260. Prisoners are apparently using those phones to surf the Web and update Facebook accounts, so now the department is working with Facebook to shut down accounts that have been updated since the prisoner's incarceration.

    “Access to social media allows inmates to circumvent our monitoring process and continue to engage in criminal activity,” CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate said in a release. “This new cooperation between law enforcement and Facebook will help protect the community and potentially avoid future victims.”

    While many prisoners are simply updating their Facebook pages with mundane updates such as "Listenin 2 sum music tryin 2 unwind," others may have darker motives. One inmate, convicted for child molestation, allegedly harassed his now 17-year-old victim by finding information about her from social media sites MySpace and Facebook, drew pictures of her and sent them to her home address.

    Prison employees are considered to be the most likely way prisoners get cell phones, according to the Los Angeles Times, which often sell for $1,000 each in prison. Providing a mobile phone is a violation of prison rules but isn't a crime, so employees can only be fired.

    Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said that it disables accounts that "are violating relevant U.S. laws or regulations or inmate accounts" updated by someone on the outside. "We will also take appropriate action against anyone who misuses Facebook to threaten or harass," he said in an e-mailed statement.

    While some states have laws against sexual predators using social networks (as well as Facebook itself) none have gone so far as to outlaw social networks for inmates. Could this be its start?