Stop Putting Prisoners in Solitary Confinement for Using the Internet


Target: South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Brian P. Sterling

Goal: End solitary confinement as a punishment for using social media while in prison.

Since 2012, the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) has ruled that posting to social media sites such as Facebook is a level 1 offense, and level 1 offenses are punished with up to 360 days in solitary confinement, for each infraction. This means that an inmate who commits three such infractions can be punished with almost three years in solitary confinement. Each day that an inmate uses social media counts as one infraction, so 5 posts over 5 days is 5 infractions, but 5 posts on one day is only one infraction. And, “social media” is constructed so broadly that simply emailing a lawyer or talking to an online news outlet can count.

The result of all of this is that in the last three years, the SCDC has brought more than 400 disciplinary cases against prisoners for using social media, 16 of which resulted in over a decade of solitary confinement, and one of which resulted in 37.5 years of solitary. For posting on Facebook.

Numerous studies have shown that solitary confinement has terrible psychological effects on prisoners because it denies them access to human contact for an extended period of time. And because of the way the infractions are counted, using social media is punished as harshly as rape or murder, both of which are also level 1 offenses.

The struggle to end solitary confinement of prisoners is ongoing, it won’t be easy, and it will consist of many smaller battles, like ending the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for posting a status update on Facebook. By signing this petition, you’ll be asking SCDC Director Brian P. Sterling to end this outrageous practice, and to seek less damaging and more productive responses to inmates who violate prison rules.


Dear SCDC Director Brian P. Sterling,

The use of solitary confinement has been shown, time and time again, to have severe psychological effects on prisoners. It is an incredibly severe punishment, and in the case of an inmate who uses the internet to access Facebook and other social media services, it is an absurdly disproportionate punishment. The simple act of posting to Facebook should not be equated with murder, rape, and the other extreme actions classified as level 1 offenses. Spending any amount of time in solitary confinement can have lifelong effects on an inmate, much less spending a year there, just for sending out a tweet.

I understand that the rules regarding prisoners contacting the outside world are there for a reason, but those actions need to have punishments relative to the infraction, and solitary confinement for a simple social media post is extreme, especially if the punishment does not reflect the content of that post.

I am writing to urge you to cease classifying social media use as a level 1 offense, and to reverse disciplinary rulings that have put inmates in solitary for upwards of a decade in some cases. Seek out a new way to reprimand such actions, one which does not carry lifelong and extremely damaging side effects.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: TryJimmy via pixabay

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