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New Texas Rules May Force Inmates to Close Social Media Accounts

Published: Jun 06, 2016 in Criminal Defense

Social media is a daily part of many people’s lives, allowing them to keep in touch with friends and family. However, a new Texas rule makes it clear that prisoners within the state are not allowed to have active, personal social media accounts. This includes Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and any other social media platform. This rule has significant implications on the free speech rights of prisoners and their friends and family members. If you have concerns regarding the social media accounts of someone in prison, contact Ned Barnett, a knowledgeable Houston criminal defense attorney, at (713) 222-6767 to discuss the situation.

Active Social Media Accounts

Although Texas prisoners are not allowed access to the Internet, the reality is that many of the inmates had social media accounts before their sentences were imposed, and friends and family continue to make updates for them. Prisoners may ask friends and family members to update social media statuses or pages via letters or during visits. The new rule prohibits anyone from updating social media accounts belonging to Texas prisoners.

The Reason for the New Rule

The rule has a two-fold purpose. Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) spokesperson Jason Clark explained that inmates sometimes use social media accounts to sell items over the Internet by using their reputations or fame to profit from their crimes. The new rule would limit prisoners who engage or solicit others through a third party.

Prisoners with social media accounts may also use them to harass victims or witnesses of their crimes. The new rule would enable social media sites to quickly take down these active accounts once they are discovered, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Consequences of Violation

If prisoners are found to have updated accounts, they are given level 3 violations, the lowest violation in the prison system. This can result in loss of certain privileges, additional work duty, and extra confinement to their cells. Third parties found to be updating the accounts of Texas prisoners may be restricted from visiting or corresponding with their loved ones.

The Blog Exception

For now, this rule only applies to social media accounts. Inmates can still write blog posts. This means inmates’ friends and family members can update private websites created by inmates or under their names.

Interestingly, Tumblr is considered a hybrid blog and social media site. If prisoners’ friends or family members publish posts under the prisoners’ names, the TDCJ may require it to be taken down.

A First Amendment Concern

Opponents of the new rule are concerned about the free speech rights of prisoners and their friends and families. However, Texas is not the first state to bar inmates from active social media accounts. Other states have also banned the use of Facebook and other platforms, and some even prohibit personal blogs.

The Texas Civil Rights Project is concerned that prisons are trying to extend regulations beyond their own walls. The rule acts as a law that should have been created by the legislature, The Independent reported. The Project says this rule affects more than just prisoners, and the TDCJ should not have jurisdiction over the friends and families of prisoners.

Contact Houston Criminal Defense Attorney Ned Barnett

If you or a loved one have questions about this new rule or regarding a prisoner’s rights, contact Ned Barnett, an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney. Ned Barnett has more than 30 years of experience and will take time to get to know your situation and answer your questions. If legal action is necessary, he will advise you of your rights and guide you through the process you choose.

Call The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 for a free case evaluation.