The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has put out a new investigationfinding that nearly 400 South Carolina prisoners have been subjected to solitary confinement because they used social media. Thanks to a 2012 rule change at the South Carolina Department of Corrections, “creating and/or assisting with a social networking site” became a Level 1 offense, which puts it on the same level of offense as “murder, rape, rioting, escape and hostage-taking.”
The investigation, conducted with open records requests by EFF, has found that these social media offenses carried extreme penalties, with the most severe being the case of Tyheem Henry. Henry received 13,680 days (approximately 37 and a half years ) of solitary confinement, while losing 27,360 days worth of telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges and 69 days of good time for 38 posts he made on Facebook.
While Henry’s case is extreme, EFF found that the average length of punishment for social networking related cases was 512 days of solitary confinement.
Unfortunately, while South Carolina has perhaps the harshest punishments for social media use, it is not unique in handing out severe punishment for such a banal activity. EFF notes thatNew Mexico sentenced a man to 60 days in solitary when his family accessed his Facebook for him.
EFF is both calling on South Carolina to review its prison social media policy and for Facebook to provide transparency for how detention agencies are using data it gives them to punish prisoners; the site currently has an entire feature called the “Inmate Account Takedown Request” for corrections officers to use to shut down detainee social media accounts.