Punishment too harsh for Facebook behind bars in SC

A social media problem that appears to exist in South Carolina prisons goes beyond just a head scratcher.

It’s an issue that’s outright ridiculous on two levels. According to an article published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international nonprofit digital rights group, the S.C. Department of Corrections is actually throwing inmates in solitary confinement for decades merely for posting to Facebook.

The foundation found that 16 inmates in South Carolina caught using social media were sentenced to more than a decade in solitary confinement, a punishment that’s actually harsher than killing, raping or rioting in state prisons. First, the fact that prisoners even have access to social media is mind boggling.

However, it’s even worse that the punishment for it is so much more stringent than those much more extreme cases. The article cited one convicted burglar who was given 37 years in solitary lockup and lost 74 years worth of telephone and visitation privileges for making 38 posts to Facebook.

It’s certainly understandable that the state’s Department of Correction wants to crack down on the use of social media by prisoners. Any inmate with access to websites such as Facebook almost undoubtedly gained access through illegal means, likely a contraband phone. That kind of access certainly needs to be eliminated.

However, in 2012, the Department of Corrections ramped up punishment so high that inmates caught using social media or contraband cellphones are now viewed as committing Level 1 offenses, placing them on par with serious acts of violence.

The article notes that “if a South Carolina inmate caused a riot, took three hostages, murdered them, stole their clothes, and then escaped, he could still wind up with fewer Level 1 offenses than an inmate who updated Facebook every day for two weeks.”

This certainly raises questions about the different layers of punishment. Having access to Facebook from prison doesn’t make sense, but neither does having the punishment system that’s so out of balance.

The state’s Department of Corrections should be as vigilant as possible when it comes to such activity.

However, it also needs to revise its sentencing mandates so that these types of offenses aren’t put on the same bar with much more violent and extreme behavior.