Prison officials wise to block inmate use of Facebook accounts

Keeping a lid on inmate communication is essential to maintaining order in prisons.

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The Washington state Department of Corrections officials are wisely taking action to get Facebook to take down inmates' personal pages.

The move is essential to help maintain order in the state's correctional institutions. And, more importantly, it serves to keep state prisons safer.

Facebook, like any communication, could be used to pass along information to or from an inmate that could be used to hatch an escape attempt or plot an act of violence or maintain criminal networks and contacts outside of prison.

Ironically, asking Facebook to disable inmates pages shouldn't be necessary since inmates are forbidden from possessing or using cellphones. They are also not allowed to use the Internet on prison computers.

But a few inmates always seem to find a way to get cellphones into prisons. Over the past year, corrections officers have confiscated about 40 contraband cellphones from prisoners, said DOC spokesman Chad Lewis.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed in August to take down inmates' pages, so we would hope it would also be done for Washington (and, frankly, every other state).

Inmates having active Facebook pages is a problem for the prison system even if inmates don't have access.

Corrections staff believe that family or friends of inmates are keeping their accounts going from outside prison, Lewis said. Facebook should want to stop this since this is a violation of a its policy prohibiting anyone else from using another person's account.

"We think most of the time if an offender's Facebook status is updated it's a family member or a friend updating it," Lewis said. "The indication has not been that anything illegal has been done. It has mostly been males trying to communicate with their wives or girlfriends or sharing naughty photos."

Department of Corrections investigators must still spend time monitoring those Facebook accounts just as they scour inmate letters, listen in on phone calls and check the highly secured instant-messaging system that prisoners are allowed to use to communicate with a specific list of people.

Beyond all that, inmates are in prison as a punishment. They have lost their freedom, which means they should not be able to communicate with friends or family without monitoring.

Let's hope the step being taken work to curb this concern. If not, then perhaps the Legislature needs to take action to make internet or cellphone communication while an inmate a crime punishable by additional prison time.

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