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Facebook cracks down on inmate profile posts

August 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Facebook is working to pull the plug on inmates using social media while incarcerated. Critics say some use it to commit crimes, but prisoners' rights groups say it's a tool to stay in touch with family.

Facebook accounts for inmates or those used on behalf of inmates violate the company's user policies. Now there's a crackdown.

Countless numbers of California inmates are actively updating their Facebook accounts from their cells using smartphones that have been smuggled into prisons.

They're posting pictures in front of their bunks and talking about time in the yard.

But the activities aren't always mundane. The state says they're sometimes plotting crimes with each other in code on social media.

One child molester even contacted his victim, who's now 17.

"We found that he was accessing her Facebook site, with photos, and he was pretty much monitoring her life, and was able to know what she looked like even this many years later," said Katie James, a manager for victims' and survivors' rights and services at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Facebook is now working with the Corrections Department and other law enforcement agencies across the country to disable the accounts of inmates who are actively posting while incarcerated, even if it's updated by a family member on the outside.

Prisoners' rights groups say that's not fair because inmates need to stay connected with family or tell media about the conditions inside.

"Social media is one way that prisoners and family members have used in order to communicate with each other," said Isaac Ontiveros, Critical Resistance. "Social media becomes a tool for prisoners to expose what's going on inside the prisons."

Victims' rights groups applaud the move.

They say prisoners are still able to use payphones and write letters and that access to technology means they're up to no good.

The Corrections Dept. has been trying to get a grip of the proliferation of cellphones in prisons. More than 7,000 have been confiscated in the first six months of this year alone.

"This is like organized crime. They can get in touch with gangs, they can commit crimes from in prison. We need to stop all this," said Harriet Salarno, Crime Victims United.

Depending on their parole terms, inmates could request their Facebook accounts to be reactivated upon their release.

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