Prisons have a legitimate interest in controlling contraband, but in South Carolina, using social media from behind bars is a Class I offense, carrying stiffer penalties than murder, escape and hostage-taking.
What's worse is that Facebook collaborates with the South Carolina to unaccountably and silently censor inmates' profiles, which are often the locus of legal defense campaigns and maintaining contact with family and friends — crucial to reintegrating with society after release. EFF has a set of sensible recommendations for Facebook's relationship to prison authorities, starting with "Stop censoring inmates without first evaluating whether a serious ToS violation has occurred (such as harassing a victim or engaging in a criminal enterprise)."
The punishments for using social media include protracted terms in solitary confinement — more than 37 years in the case of an inmate who made 38 Facebook posts — universally considered to be a form of torture.
Since the policy was implemented, SCDC has brought 432 disciplinary cases against 397 inmates, with more than 40 inmates receiving more than two years in solitary confinement [PDF].
Here are some of the most severe social media punishments we've seen:
In October 2013, Tyheem Henry received 13,680 days (37.5 years) in disciplinary detention and lost 27,360 day (74 years) worth of telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 69 days of good time—all for 38 posts on Facebook.
In June 2014, Walter Brown received 12,600 days (34.5 years) in disciplinary detention and lost 25,200 days (69 years) in telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 875 days (2.4 years) of good time—all for 35 posts on Facebook.
In May 2014, Jonathan McClain received 9,000 days (24.6 years) in disciplinary detention and lost 18,000 days (49 years) in telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 30 days of good time—all for 25 posts on Facebook.
The average punishment length for a "social networking" case was 512 days in disciplinary detention, and the average length of lost privileges was even longer.
So disproportionate are these punishments that South Carolina doesn't have space in disciplinary detention for all the offenders and "regularly" is forced to put the punishments on hold. In the cases of the three above inmates, SCDC says that none will serve the full punishment since they will be released from prison within the next five to 10 years.