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Why Does Your Facebook Profile have an Inmate Number?
By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist
Published: 02/20/2012

Facebook a In August I wrote an article called Sex Offenders: 1 Supervision Officers: 0 specifically to highlight the need for officers to be able to access the same areas that their offenders are visiting and oftentimes posting to at will. I am sad to say things just haven’t changed since that piece appeared. I am still getting reports that officers both inside and outside prison walls continue to have their Internet access restricted.

It really is bizarre when you think about it. Take for instance Facebook, the current big dog of social networking sites. Offenders are having profiles often times from behind prison walls but the individuals that are suppose to be guarding or supervising them can’t access those sites from work. ( I also like the story out about probation violators posting on the Facebook profiles while they are wanted for violations but I digress).

Yes, I know some states are looking at ways to ban prisoners from having Facebook profiles, two notable ones are California and recently South Carolina. Facebook and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reportedly entered into partnership in August of 2011 to prohibit inmates from having accounts. There are some exceptions. The policy does not apply to inmates who created an account before they were sentenced and have not used it while incarcerated. Reportedly, Facebook’s policies prohibit an individual other than the registered user from updating a Facebook account, which would happen when any update occurs…unless of course the inmates is doing it while in prison via a mobile device. Additionally, this described policy is only for states which prohibit inmates from accessing Facebook while in custody. But none of this inmate or prison specific stuff appears anywhere on Facebook’s user agreement. There is a prohibition to a user allowing another person access their account (Item 8), but that is not specific to inmates.

All this has me scratching my head. Facebook reportedly has a prison policy, which is not part of its user agreement, last updated April of 2011. But there is a report out that California has an agreement with Facebook which points to a rule that they will prohibit inmates from accessing their accounts if they are not allowed to in their state. The last time I checked Internet access was very limited in U.S. prisons. Sure some have e-mail but I have never heard of any state or federal prison system allowing inmates to access Facebook accounts while in custody. At best most systems are silent on the topic. Does that mean approval? Is Facebook waiting until states like South Carolina take legislative action to prohibit access? Meanwhile while all of this is going on many of those charged with guarding inmates can’t access the Internet or more specifically Facebook. So we can make sure the employees can’t access Facebook but the inmates can do it at will. That makes perfect sense. See no evil hear no evil, etc.

Now many of you are wondering what is the big deal. Let the inmates have Facebook access. What is the worse that could happen? It is not like they could coordinate a riot or attack via a social networking site. No one has done that yet. Nah… these are prisoners…. they wouldn’t do that…. Right! States need to carefully articulate to Facebook that they don’t want inmates accessing and updating their profiles. Facebook has got to have a policy on this that can be enforced and is posted somewhere. It makes sense that if they had an account before going in that they can have it as long as no updates occur. Corrections has also got to find a way to allow officers both inside and outside of the walls to check on what is occurring in cyberspace before it finds its way into the real world and someone gets hurt. Finally, much of this would go away if prisons could block mobile phones from working in prison. Obviously I am asking for sanity in an insane world. Now where is that cigar at…

Art Bowker is the author of the soon to be released book The Cybercrime Handbook for Community Corrections: Managing Offender Risk in the 21st Century, publisher Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd. He has over 26 years experience in both law enforcement and corrections at the state and federal level. In 2008, Art was the International President of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA). This professional non-profit organization is the largest of its kind devoted to the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of crimes involving advanced technologies (htcia.org). Art is also member of the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) and is a member of their Technology Committee, He has a Master of Corrections degree from Kent State University. Follow Art on Twitter.com at: (http://twitter.com/Computerpo)

Other articles by Bowker:


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  5. CO on 11/02/2012:

    I am a corrections officer in the BOP and I have recently had some success in having inmate Facebook accounts locked due to violations of the Facebook user agreement. That being said, I am currently aware of almost 90 inmates in the facility I work in with "Active" Facebook accounts but have only been able to confirm 22 of those accounts due to the restrictions placed by Bureau policy.

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