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Louisiana lawmakers want to ban convicts’ use of social media

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Written by
Mike Hasten 

BATON ROUGE — Prison inmates and sex offenders who have been released should be banned from using social networking sites on the Internet that could be used to solicit victims, Louisiana lawmakers say.

Bills addressing separate issues have been approved in the House and Senate and have been sent to the other body for consideration.

House Bill 55 by Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, bans certain sex offenders, especially those whose crimes involved minors, from accessing social media like Facebook or MySpace, or going into chat rooms or peer-to-peer networks. It has been sent to the Senate for review after receiving 76-0 approval in the House on Thursday.

“Currently, we have laws that tell sex offenders how many feet they have to stay away from our children and what places they can go near our children,” Thierry said. “With the increasing rate of usage of the Internet and usage by our innocent children, I think it’s only proper that we have this legislation so we can tell them how far to stay away from our children on the Internet.”

Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell said summer is a prime time for solicitors of children because the youngsters are out of school and have lots of idle time to spend surfing the Web.

“Internet access offers incredible opportunities for learning and entertainment, but parents need to know that there are some dark and dangerous off-ramps, especially for children, when surfing the Web,” he said. “The AG’s High Tech Crime Unit and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force are working hard to keep kids safe online, but we also need the help of parents.”

Caldwell says that without proper supervision, children can easily be exposed to inappropriate material and messages, be exploited by sexual predators and even become victims to unscrupulous con artists.

Sen. Francis Thompson’s Senate Bill 182 takes a different approach. It targets inmates who are behind bars and using the Internet to create social networking sites to make connections with people, further scams, threaten witnesses, solicit contraband to be brought into prisons or send or receive pornography.

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Thompson’s bill cleared the Senate 31-1 and is scheduled to be heard in the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee.

SB182 is “a public safety issue and a victim’s right and protection issue,” Thompson said.

It was proposed by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, which presented Thompson with “a four-inch-thick folder of things I could not talk about in committee.”

He said it contains “horrible things they say, things they’d do — drugs, developing relationships and intimidating people. I wish they would all rehabilitate properly, but the fact is, they don’t. There’s a lot of abnormal behavior going on.”

Corrections officials monitor letters that go out, phone calls in and out and computer usage, he said, but inmates get people on the outside to create sites for them. While the bill can’t penalize someone else for setting up a social networking site for an inmate, the law would punish any inmate that gets someone else to do it.

“The bill says they’re responsible for their own actions,” Thompson said.

Thierry’s HB55 creates the crime of unlawful use or access of social media, such as networking websites, chat rooms or peer-to-peer networks by a person who is required to register as a sex offender and who was either previously convicted of indecent behavior with juveniles, pornography involving juveniles, computer-aided solicitation of a minor or video voyeurism, or was previously convicted of a sex offense in which the victim was a minor.

The proposed law provides an exception for those sex offenders who have permission to access social networking websites, chat rooms, or peer-to-peer networks from a probation or parole officer or a court of original jurisdiction.

Upon a first conviction, the offender shall be fined not more than $10,000 and shall be imprisoned with hard labor for not more than 10 years without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.

A second or subsequent conviction would bring a fine of not more than $20,000 and shall be imprisoned with hard labor for not less than five years nor more than 20 years without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.

Thompson’s SB182 expands present law that authorizes the secretary to permit visits between inmates and persons outside the institution under reasonable conditions between approved friends, relatives and other persons.

It would prohibit any offender sentenced in state court from establishing or maintaining an account on a social networking website.

The proposed law provides maximum penalties of a fine of not more than $500 and imprisonment of not more than 30 days.

Thompson said the penalty “was not necessarily my idea,” and some people argued that it didn’t seem like much of a penalty for someone who was already in prison.

He said he told them, “Just like it is out here, in there, money is king. In there, $500 can buy a lot more than it can out here.”

Thompson said state Corrections officials have talked to major social network providers to help prevent inmates from creating sites.


Written by demon53

May 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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