The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that hundreds of South Carolina inmates have been sent to solitary confinement for their unauthorized use of social media:

Back in 2012, the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) made “Creating and/or Assisting With A Social Networking Site” a Level 1 offense, a category reserved for the most violent violations of prison conduct policies…Over the last three years, prison officials have brought more than 400 disciplinary cases for “social networking”—almost always for using Facebook. The offenses come with heavy penalties, such as years in solitary confinement and deprivation of virtually all privileges, including visitation and telephone access. In 16 cases, inmates were sentenced to more than a decade in what’s called disciplinary detention, with at least one inmate [Tyheem Henry] receiving more than 37 years in isolation.

facebook jail

The article clarifies that Henry received 37.5 years “in disciplinary detention and lost 27,360 days (74 years) worth of telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 69 days of good time—all for 38 posts on Facebook.” And his case is not a singular anomaly. It was found that the punishment time for social networking averaged at about 512 days in solitary per prisoner – which includes instances of inmates having others, such as friends or family, posting for them outside of prison.

This has, of course, raised many questions of what would be a proper gradation of punishment in such cases with many critics likening South Carolina’s actions to torture. While the comparison to torture may seem sensational, there have been many studies in the potentially crippling effects of long-term solitary confinement. An article by Wired, which covered 2013’s California prison revolt over the state’s liberal use of disciplinary detention, featured an interview with Terry Kupers of the Wright Institute, an outspoken critic of the practice. He had this to say about the lasting effects of prolonged solitary punishment:

“What we’ve found is that a series of symptoms occur almost universally. They are so common that it’s something of a syndrome…I’m afraid we’re talking about permanent damage.” When prisoners leave solitary confinement and re-enter society — something that often happens with no transition period — their symptoms might abate, but they’re unable to adjust. “I’ve called this the decimation of life skills,” said Kupers. “It destroys one’s capacity to relate socially, to work, to play, to hold a job or enjoy life.”

The combination of negative national attention and South Carolina’s lack of enough solitary confinement cells to accommodate the high number of offenses have led the state to issue a cap of 60 days for such infringements according to a CNN report.

South Carolina Corrections Department Director Bryn P. Stirling asserts that the restriction of inmate’s social media access is solely to protect public safety, citing, “Any hole in the system – and social media is a hole into the system – is a way for [inmates] to continue their criminal ways. There needs to be a punishment that’s worse than, ‘No candy for you today,’ or, ‘You won’t see your mother.’ There has to be something more severe than that.”

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