Facebook has agreed to help California prisons take down illegal accounts created by inmates in order to keep crime victims safe and prevent inmates from engaging in further criminal activity.
Following several months of talks with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the world's largest social networking Web site agreed to assist with the crackdown. But Facebook was quick to say the state needs to step up to prevent inmates from acquiring illegal smartphones and other device used to update their pages.
"If a state has decided that prisoners have forfeited their right to use the Internet, the most effective way to prevent access is to ensure prisons have the resources to keep smartphones and other devices out," said company spokesman Andrew Noyes.
Facebook said it will disable accounts that violate relevant U.S. laws or regulations or prisoner accounts updated by somebody on the outside and "take appropriate action" against anyone using the site to threaten or harass others. Pages that were created before an individual was incarcerated will be allowed to stand.
Most of the inmates who have managed to update their Facebook accounts have done so through illegally smuggled cell phones. The state corrections department reports that incidents of prisoners caught with cell phones have increased astronomically within the past five years. While 261 mobile devices were confiscated in California prisons in 2006, there were 10,760 confiscated in 2010 and 7,284 during the first six months of 2011 alone.
In addition, a recent report from the Federal Bureau of Prisons National Gang Intelligence Center that was released internally to the law enforcement community found rising numbers of individuals using Facebook while behind bars.
Dana Toyama, a spokesperson for the CDCR, said law enforcement officials have received hundreds of complaints from crime victims who were contacted by prisoners convicted in their cases. In one instance, an inmate convicted of child molestation seven years ago mailed sketches of his victim - now 17-years-old - to her family that accurately depicted her current hair style and clothing. An investigation discovered he found photos of the girl while browsing through her Facebook and MySpace pages.
Officials believe prison guards are more than likely the source of contraband phones, as unlike visitors, prison employees are not searched on their way in. Although it is currently a violation of prison rules to smuggle a cell phone to an inmate, it is not illegal, meaning an employee could be fired - but not prosecuted - for the deed.
That status quo may not last for long. State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) introduced legislation in February that would make smuggling a phone to a prison inmate punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail.