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Facebook deletes prisoner pages, where inmates conduct criminal activity

Published: Friday, Aug. 12 2011 10:27 a.m. MDT

Facebook officials announced intentions this week to work with police to keep prisoners off the social networking site.

The California Department of Corrections approached the social media giant after fielding hundreds of complaints from victims who were contacted by prison inmates, according to the International Business Times. Inmates, who are not allowed Internet access, have been using Facebook to deliver threats, make sexual advances and orchestrate crimes.

"Access to social media allows inmates to circumvent our monitoring process and continue to engage in criminal activity," CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate said in a statement. "This new cooperation between law enforcement and Facebook will help protect the community and potentially avoid future victims."

Prisons across the country have been experiencing similar trouble since smartphones hit the market, the New York Times reported. With the Internet access smartphones provide, it's easy for inmates to call up phone directories, maps and photographs for criminal purposes.

In California, a convicted child molester used Facebook to look at photos of his now-17-year-old victim, drew pictures of her and mailed them to her house, according to CBS News. The inmate had not seen the victim for 10 years but accurately drew the girl's current hairstyle and clothing. In Oklahoma, a convicted killer used the website to post photos of drugs, knives and alcohol he'd smuggled into his cell. In Maryland, imprisoned gang members used smartphones to approve targets for robberies.

"The smartphone is the most lethal weapon you can get inside a prison," Terry L. Bittner, director of security products with ITT Corp., which makes cellphone-detection systems for prisons, told the New York Times. "The smartphone is the equivalent of the old Swiss Army knife. You can do a lot of other things with it."

Cellphones are considered contraband in prison. Most of the time, prisoners buy them from guards or have visitors smuggle them in. Behind bars, a cellphone can go for $1,000. In South Carolina, though, smugglers have been caught tossing phones over fences.

In California last year, prison officials confiscated 10,760 cell phones, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In 2006, they confiscated only 261.

"Almost everybody has a phone," a 33-year-old inmate at Smith State Prison in Georgia told the New York Times. "Almost every phone is a smartphone. Almost everybody with a smartphone has a Facebook (page)."

The California Department of Corrections is combing Facebook for prisoner profiles. Facebook has agreed to disable the profiles, spokesman Andrew Noyes said in a statement.

"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 smartphones and other devices out," Noyes said. "We will disable accounts reported to us that are violating relevant U.S. laws or regulations or inmate accounts that are updated by someone on the outside."

EMAIL: estuart@desnews.com

twitter: elizMstuart

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