Inmate Access to Internet: Is it a Constitutional Right?
Technology has had a significant impact over our society, for better and for worse. Access to the Internet has been used for good and bad purposes, and such an incredible tool can make a significant difference to a person’s life. Technology is slowly but surely coming to the prison system, as more or more our accustomed habits are being moved from the “manual” to the “technological.”
Consequences of Lack of Access to the Internet
Inmates who have been incarcerated for years are missing the formative years of technological progress. Though the inmate population is not completely isolated from the shift, inmates who have served their sentence get out of jail, unprepared for the shifted society. They are unfit for the job market, especially as companies are becoming paper-less. Unemployment, as well as a lack of finances to upgrade their tech skill sets, send many inmates back to the prisons and increase the recidivism rate.
Is Access to the Internet a Decidedly Fundamental Right?
Access to the internet by inmates has yet to be determined by courts, or more specifically the Supreme Court. There is a substantial list that invokes the negatives and positives of prisoners using the internet. Many believe the Internet can help prisoners stay connected to family and friends for support, review information regarding the criminal justice system and their cases, and help integrate prisoners into the mainstream once they have been released. However, there have been reports that inmates have threatened and intimidated witnesses, have reconnected with old cronies, and have used the internet to stay connected with criminal activity.
Does Access to the Internet Equate to First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech?
The question that is on prisons’ and prisoners’ minds alike is whether internet access is a fundamental right. According a 2011 U.N. Report and several reports from other major humanitarian organizations, these reports reveal that these organizations do in fact believe the internet to be a fundamental right, largely because of the access to knowledge and the fast-paced forum for today’s modern society, but also because as a modern device, the internet has become one of the largest mediums for First Amendment rights. The right to be able to express oneself is still fundamental, even to those incarcerated. Though rights of the incarcerated are significantly limited because of the interest of the state to limit these rights as a part of the inmates’ punishments, the freedom of speech remains supreme, even with some limitations that are part of it. Many argue that the right to use the internet is the right to express one’s point of view, therefore, a limitation on the use of internet is ultimately a modern-day limitation on an inmate’s ability to express himself or herself with pen and paper.
The Current, Accessibility Status Quo
Currently only four states – Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, and Louisiana – permit inmates access to a limited amount of internet; Louisiana prisons only permit inmates who are to be released within 45 days access to the internet, while Kansas whittled down internet access to minimum security prisons. Federal prisons have been more liberal in increasing access by permitting inmates to have email (both sending and receiving) through an established system known as TRULINCS where the inmates may only email with authorized individuals and all emails are closely monitored.
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