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Texas inmates barred from having social media accounts, even if people on outside running them

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The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has decided to change the rules when it comes to inmates’ social media accounts.

The department updated its criminal handbook earlier this month to “prohibit prisoners from having personal pages on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram run in their name by others,” the Texas Tribune reported.

Julie Strickland, a grant writer who runs two social media sites for a death row inmate, said she thinks the policy is “complete bullshit.” Strickland believes the only reason they’re implementing this is because the prisons want to keep their actions ‘very private’, and lately, with the help of social media, they’ve just become ‘way too public’.

This new policy raises “very serious concerns about the stifling of free speech and frankly probably reaches far beyond, in terms of its impact,” said Wayne Krause Yang, legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

“Typically, prisons control the things inside the prisons. They don’t traditionally get to pass prison policies that extend far beyond the bars, and it seems like that’s what they’re trying to do here,” he said. “Those types of policies have a name – they’re called laws. They should be considered by the representatives of the people, too, because this policy doesn’t just affect the people behind the bars,” Krause Yang said.

Department spokesman Jason Clark said there was no specific inmate that prompted the new policy, although he also noted the dept learned that a convicted Houston serial killer was selling trinkets from prison– through a Facebook account operated by another individual.

Clark said the new policy was put in place because of the social media companies themselves. “I can tell you increasingly it has become more difficult to ask those companies to take it down. They would come back to us and say, ‘You don’t have a specific policy that says they can’t have it.'”

A Facebook representative declined to comment on TDCJ’s new ban, but pointed to the company’s policy for removing prisoner accounts when there is “a genuine risk of physical harm.”

State Rep. Joe Moody says this new policy could limit inmates’ abilities to express themselves, but that it addresses just “one mechanism” inmates use to communicate with the outside world. “There are other avenues that individuals who are incarcerated are able to raise awareness about their case,” Moody said.

 

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