CHARLESTON, S.C. - South Carolina prisoners caught with banned cell phones, which are often tossed over a prison fence to them, can face solitary confinement and loss of visitation and canteen privileges.
But those caught updating their status on their Facebook page, by cell phone or any other means, might soon be looking at 30 extra days behind bars and a $500 fine.
Representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat from Charleston, has introduced a bill that would make it unlawful for an inmate to be a member of any internet social-networking site, and would provide a penalty on conviction for the offense.
Other state legislators seem to think it's a good idea. The bill has 12 co-sponsors.
Gilliard said on Wednesday in an interview with Reuters that he's had e-mails from constituents and chats with prison guards about inmates on Facebook.
Earlier this month, a local newspaper detailed the profiles of South Carolina prison Facebookers such as Anthony "Tony" Enriquez, 34, serving life without parole for murdering a man he robbed of a pack of cigarettes.
The newspaper quoted a friend of Enriquez's victim who was shocked to find the killer on Facebook.
Gilliard said those and other stories prompted him to act. He expects the legislation to be debated and pass quickly, he said.
"It presents problems with the innocent people on the outside," Gilliard said. "The inmates have been using social networking to put coded messages out about where money is to be found, who turned them in, wanting revenge. It's putting innocent people's lives at stake."
"I was taught that crime does not pay," he said. "I don't think it's comfortable for people on the inside to do networking on the outside ... We can never let our constituents think that the criminals have the upper hand."
"The goal of the bill is to stop the inside from coming out. Victims have rights, too."
In March of 2010, Facebook yanked the account of Tennessee death row inmate Nikolaus Johnson.
"If a state has decided that prisoners have forfeited their right to use the Internet, the most effective way to prevent access is to ensure prisons have the resources to keep smart phones and other devices out," Andrew Noyes, public policy communications manager at Facebook, said on Wednesday.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)