No Facebook for inmates under S.C. bill

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

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Inmates could not join Facebook or other social-networking sites, nor could their friends create memberships for them, if a new measure in the South Carolina Legislature becomes law.

South Carolina Democratic Rep. Wendell G. Gilliard and others introduced House Bill 3527 on Feb. 2. Under the measure:

“It is unlawful for an inmate to be a member of any Internet-based social networking website such as Facebook, Myspace, and Classmates. An inmate who joins an Internet-based social networking website or a person who establishes an account with an Internet-based social network website for an inmate is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five hundred dollars, or imprisoned not more than thirty days.”

The (Charleston) Post and Courier had reported on South Carolina inmates with Facebook accounts. One such story told of an inmate convicted of manslaughter who was able to post material from a cell phone in prison.

“This is an embarrassment to South Carolina that no lawmaker should tolerate,” Gilliard told Post and Courier reporter Glenn Smith in a later story. “These inmates can use this to put people's lives in danger. We need to put a stop to this immediately.”

A First Amendment advocate in Cleveland expressed concerns about the Gilliard bill.

“This bill strikes me as gratuitously cruel, essentially an effort to stifle basic acts of communication by inmates,” said Kevin F. O’Neill, a law professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law who has written about free-expression rights of inmates.

“But I think that a court would uphold it if the government can point to some inside-the-prison security concern that this bill is designed to advance. The courts have been receptive to regulations that are designed to prevent inmates from communicating — and thus cooperating — in concerted efforts to revolt or escape.”

The measure was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Gilliard could not be reached for comment about the bill's chances of passing.

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