A corrections sergeant at Texas’ oldest prison was fired last May for having a convict as a Facebook friend. Officials said he had violated policy and compromised security, even though he insisted he didn’t know the man was a prisoner, only a high-school acquaintance, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Texas bans convicts and guards, parolees, and parole officers, from fraternizing, including as Facebook friends. Now, officials have reinstated the sergeant after an internal investigation determined that a number of other prison employees had the same online friend, including the prison system’s chief financial officer. The state no longer considers Facebook friendships, by themselves, a violation of the fraternization ban.
The case illustrates an issue that has been popping up with increasing frequency across the country, as prison systems find themselves entangled in the social networking craze. “There’s almost no way a correctional officer — or anyone else for that matter — can tell if any one of their Facebook friends are convicts, parolees or ex-convicts,” said Lance Lowry, president of a Huntsville local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that represents prison guards. “With more than a million people in Texas now incarcerated, on parole or probation, there’s a pretty good chance some of those Facebook friends are or have been in the criminal justice system at one time.”