It's the world's most popular way to connect and keep in touch, but for inmates in Alabama – Facebook is supposed to be off limits. WSFA 12 News had evidence that prisoners are accessing and posting to the social networking site from behind bars, with unsettling details.
"It's a never-ending task, we fight it every day, just like officers on the street fight drunk driving every day, we fight cell phones in prison every day," says Brian Corbett, Public Information Officer at the Department of Corrections.
For now, at least one prisoner appears to be winning that fight, and breaking other rules. We found pictures and posts on Facebook, on the account registered to Jay Ysc Dacrew Thomas.
The pictures show men dressed in what appears to be prison garb, standing in what looks like a prison cell, posting to the internet from a mobile device. One post even includes a phone number to contact the prisoner, though he refused to tell those on his profile at which prison he was being housed.
WSFA 12 News attempted to call the cell phone several times throughout the day, but there was never an answer.
"Keep in mind," Corbett says, "he knows the cell phone's illegal. He knows it's contraband."
The Dept. of Corrections was unaware of the page until WSFA 12 News Reporter Bethany Wales contacted Corbett for reaction. "Cell phones are against the law, that's a new bill that just passed last year, making the possession, or the introduction of a cell phone into a prison setting a class C felony," Corbett explains, though he still is not surprised by the discovery. "Last year we confiscated more than 5,000 cell phones statewide."
The Department also has a policy against inmates using social networks. It's clearly posted on the DOC's website that such sites "are a security violation and will be shut down." Brian Corbett says that's just what the department is working towards now. "They'll look for a cell phone at the facility, and they'll contact Facebook or whatever the social network provider and have that page removed."
Within minutes of the story airing on television, the prisoner's profile was no longer available on the social networking site.
And, Corbett says, the inmates involved could face further punishment. "With what you've shown me, he can receive a disciplinary citation, that's up to 45 days loss of privileges, that could be loss of phone use, loss of visitation, loss of cantine, possibly loss of good time, possibly segregation, a number of things could occur with that disciplinary violation."
Corbett says state corrections facilities conduct random searches on a regular basis, but more specific searches will take place after tips like this. A Facebook spokesperson says it will disable accounts that are reported to be in violation of local, state or federal laws.
No one with the Department of Corrections would positively identify the prisoner in the Facebook profile, or how he was able to obtain the illegal phone.
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