Texas’s attempt to cut off prisoners from the world

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has proclaimed a new policy to cut off prisoners’ communication with the outside world, according to Fusion.net. This includes accounts maintained on their behalf by others.

[Texas spokesperson Jason] Clark said that the department will reach out to social media companies to ask that accounts in inmates’ names be taken down, and that the new rule will strengthen their ability to do so. Inmates who are found to have social media accounts would be punished with a level three disciplinary violation, the lowest level violation in the system.

Eden Detention Center, TexasTexas is holding its prisoners hostage, demanding that websites remove information from prisoners under the threat of punishing the prisoners. It’s so blatant an attempt to cut prisoners off from the rest of the world that you’d almost wonder why the officials don’t feel any sense of shame. But if they were capable of feeling shame, they wouldn’t be working there. They just want to make sure as few people as possible know about appeals, abuses, and bad conditions.

Clark offers the excuse that “offenders have used social media accounts to sell items over the internet based on the notoriety of their crime, harass victims or victim’s families, and continue their criminal activity.” Continuing criminal activity is by definition already illegal, and prisoners can still sell things through someone else (which would work better anyway; being a convicted criminal makes a seller less, not more, attractive). What the officials really don’t want to get out is that guards beat disabled prisoners and ignore rape.

I maintain a blog for Bill Wells, though he hasn’t sent me anything to post in a long time. He’s in the federal prison system, so this doesn’t affect him, but if he were a Texas prisoner, I’d be getting a letter demanding that I remove the blog if I don’t want bad things to happen to him.

The Texas government has obviously learned from Alabama. Birmingham Jail let Martin Luther King send out a letter, and look what happened. They don’t want a repetition of that. If any websites receive demands to take down prisoners’ accounts, backed by a threat to punish the prisoners if they don’t, they should publicize the threat as widely as possible.

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7 Responses to “Texas’s attempt to cut off prisoners from the world”

  1. Eyal Mozes Says:

    The way I understood the story, if an inmate is found to have a social media account, a letter will be sent to the company asking that the account be taken down andthe inmate will be punished . I didn’t see anything in the story to suggest that the punishment will be conditional, held as a threat to make the company comply.

    The story didn’t say anything about whether there will be a time period after the announcement of the policy to give inmates time to write to the maintainer of the account and ask that it be taken down, before they start getting punished. I’d give the Texas DCG the benefit of the doubt and assume there will be such a period, unless we specifically find out that punishments have started immediately.

    While I agree that the policy is unreasonable, I’m sure the motive is not, as you suggest, that “the officials really don’t want to get out is that guards beat disabled prisoners and ignore rape”. Inmates will still be able to write about such abuses in letters to their friends, and the friends will be able to bring the abuses to the attention of journalists who can publicize them much more effectively than a social media account. So forbidding inmates’ social media account really doesn’t do anything to prevent abuses from getting out. As far as I can see, the policy has no discernable motive other than a vague Luddite notion that anything to do with the internet is dangerous.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      It can make a difference in effectiveness whether the prisoners are allowed to give first-person accounts. If the rule applied to Bill, I wonder if I’d be allowed to make a post that said, “Bill just told me this in a letter…” and have the rest of the post be his words.

      • Eyal Mozes Says:

        If the rule applied to Bill, I wonder if I’d be allowed to make a post that said, “Bill just told me this in a letter…” and have the rest of the post be his words.

        Of course you’d be allowed! What possible reason do you have to think you wouldn’t? There’s certainly nothing in the story to suggest or even hint at anything like that.

        But in any case, note that when you wanted to give examples of abuses in the Texas prison system, that you thought the policy is intended to prevent from being publicized, you didn’t link to social media accounts, either of inmates or of their friends; you linked to journalistic stories. Both these stories quote the first-person accounts of some prisoners; and that way their accounts were read much more widely than had they been posted on social media. This is an example of what I think is clear: journalistic stories are a much more effective way to publicize abuses than social media accounts, and any inmate or their friend who wanted to publicize such abuses would do it by contacting journalists, not by posting on social media. There are legitimate reasons to criticize the policy, but prevention of publicizing abuses is not one of them.

        • Gary McGath Says:

          They couldn’t directly stop me from posting anything, but the question is whether they’d punish the prisoner. They could say that devoting a whole post to quoting a prisoner amounts to a proxy social media presence, and for practical purposes they’d be right.
          I did link to Bill’s blog. His isn’t very well known, but some blogs are a major part of modern journalism. I don’t know of any prisoner blogs or social media accounts that have very high visibility, but I haven’t researched the matter and wouldn’t be surprised if there are some.

          • Eyal Mozes Says:

            the question is whether they’d punish the prisoner. They could say that devoting a whole post to quoting a prisoner amounts to a proxy social media presence

            The story said that “Inmates who are found to have social media accounts would be punished”. It didn’t say anything about punishing for a “proxy social media presence”.

            • Gary McGath Says:

              In the first paragraph it says “including accounts run in their name by friends or family members.”

              • Eyal Mozes Says:

                Yes, the blog you’re now running in Bill’s name would not be allowed by the new policy; if Bill were in a Texas prison and you continued to run that blog, he’d be punished for it. That much is clear; and I agree that there’s no reasonable justification for this policy.

                My points are: first, there’s no reason to think that if someone devoted one post on their own blog to quoting a letter from a Texas prison inmate, that would be against the policy or trigger any punishment; second, there’s no reason to think – and strong reasons against thinking – that the motive for the new policy is an attempt to prevent prison abuses from getting publicized.


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