In the new Offender Orientation Handbook released this earlier this month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice instituted a new policy punishing offenders for having a social media presence even if it is managed by a friend or family member.
The new offender manual creates a prohibition on inmates "maintaining active social media accounts for the purposes of soliciting, updating, or engaging others, through a third party or otherwise."
Offenders who violate the new policy will be charged with a level three disciplinary violation which can result in solitary confinement for up to 45 days, loss of privileges, extra work duty and loss of some or all accrued "good time" credits. While the manual doesn't specifically mention the effects, one problem is that the loss of the good time credit can mean the offender isn't granted parole.
The new rule is, allegedly, designed to allow Texas prison officials to ask social media sites to take down inmate profiles.
TexasParoleNow.com believes this is censorship and if the rule is challenged in court, eventually it would be struck down. Inmate's families and friends should be free to campaign about prison conditions for inmates. This policy prohibits the inmates' First Amendment rights to gather information about the criminal justice system from those most affected by it. Most notably, if Martin Luther King, Jr wrote the famous "Letter From A Birmingham Jail" today, this policy would prohibit friends and family members from publishing it on his social media accounts.
Facebook has a history of censoring inmates' profiles. Since 2011, prison officials across the U.S. would notify Facebook of profiles belonging to inmates. Facebook would immediately suspend the profiles even if no laws were violated. There have been reports of numerous inmates being punished with solitary confinement, some receiving decades-long punishments, simply for posting to Facebook or even just having their families manage their account.
In the wake of the thousands of profiles being censured becoming public, Facebook has changed its practices and is exercising more discretion when it comes to suspending inmates profiles. Facebook has stated that the company was not in the business of enforcing prison regulations that ban inmates from having social media accounts. Facebook went on record saying that the company did not consider inmates who directly access the site to be in violation of its Terms of Service. Facebook claims the company will only remove or suspend profiles when it is believed the inmates has violated the social network's community standards which include not allowing a third party access to an inmate's account. Facebook claims inmate profiles involved in criminal activity or harassment is treated the same as if it belonged to a user in the free world.
TexasParoleNow.com will continue to monitor the situation and will post updates as more information is available.