The fact that inmates inside the Brandon Correctional Centre have been able to keep their Facebook status up to date in spite of restricted Internet access at the facility raised some eyebrows among readers yesterday.
As the Sun reported, two men who are awaiting their days in court — one pending on charges of robbery and aggravated assault, and another pending on a violent home invasion — are among the inmates who have managed to keep their Facebook status up to date, even behind bars.
“Whats up chillin in jail still hi to all my family and friends,” states one unedited post from the Facebook page of a man charged with robbery, assault, and unlawful confinement.
A Manitoba Justice spokesperson told the Sun that in general, inmates don’t have open access to the Internet or social media sites, and that cellphones are forbidden within inmate areas in the jail.
So how can a prisoner keep all his Facebook fans updated on his latest muse? They use their land-line phone privileges, mail and in-person visits to get relatives and loved ones to update their social media sites.
The prisoner posts that the Sun has read vary from updating day-to-day activities, to renewing acquaintances, to keeping Facebook friends aware of pending court dates or sentences.
While we’re not all that keen on having inmates have access to social media, we also don’t believe it’s healthy for prison inmates to be completely cut off from the outside world. Supportive contact with family and friends should be encouraged, generally, either through regular and scheduled visits, mail or phone calls.
Ongoing visits and contact with families has been shown to reduce the likelihood of recidivism among offenders. The spring 2012 edition of the Families and Corrections Journal noted a 2009 report that reviewed 6,537 offenders who were released during 2005-06.
“Their findings were that there was a positive association between having visits while incarcerated and having lower rates of readmission back to prison,” the journal wrote. “In other words, those who had visits were more successful at community reintegration and were less likely to engage in criminal behaviour.”
Does that justify the use of Facebook or other social media by Manitoba prisoners? Of course not. This kind of contact with the outside world isn’t exactly face to face, and can easily be abused. But then, so too can telephone privileges, a fact that prompted the Manitoba government to begin tapping phone calls.
Last November, Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan proposed new provincial legislation that would allow for the recording of inmate calls.
Bill 10, also known as The Correctional Services Amendment Act, was part of the government’s domestic violence strategy and was created as a way to help prevent convicts from harassing victims and witnesses.
“Threats and intimidation of the public will not be tolerated, especially from someone already in custody,” Swan said in a news release at the time. “We want to ensure the public is protected by making certain that an inmate’s activities can be monitored.”
The legislation, which recently received Royal assent, required changes to the Correctional Services Act to allow officials to record inmate phone calls, but not impede on a prisoner’s right to speak confidentially with lawyers. It was to be used if the facility head of a custodial facility has reasonable grounds to believe the calls related to a criminal offence or a plan to commit a criminal offence, or an act that may jeopardize the safety or security of the facility, or to prevent harassment or harm to other people.
Social media, like phone calls, can be used to further intimidate victims. While jails already have regulations in place to restrict Internet use, it’s difficult to strictly enforce this dictum and monitor inmate media pages when family or friends are helping to update them.
There is an argument to be made for formal Internet access within prisons so Facebook posts, like phone calls, can be better monitored by prison facilities.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 31, 2013