There has always been somewhat of a rivalry between convicts and prison guards. Being told what to do and having to obey can’t be an easy thing to deal with, and that creates a hatred for law enforcement officials. But what if inmates and guards were able to get along? A recent incident within the Texas Corrections System is leading officers to try a new approach with a touch of social media.
Heath Lara, a prison guard at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, was fired from his job after officials learned that he was Facebook friends with a current inmate. Lara was dismissed due to a violation of strict policy forbidding fraternization between officers and prisoners. Claiming that is was a big mistake, Lara appealed the ruling, stating that he had known prisoner, Gary Sanders, in high school and wasn’t aware that he had been admitted to the same facility that Lara worked. He claimed that any social interaction was prior to Sanders’ admission to the prison – perhaps even before Lara had been employed there.
After initial denial of his appeal, the ruling was later upheld. Sergeant Lara was reinstated just two weeks later. An in-depth review revealed that the officer had no ‘active’ interaction with the inmate and no real relationship. The Texas State Department of Criminal Justice also ruled that Facebook friendship be permitted between guards and inmates. It was concluded that there really was no practical way to monitor the social lives of over 40,000 employees and 154,000 convicts – should they mix, it is no longer an issue.
Jason Clark, the public information officer for the department clarified,
“To violate the policy has to be more than just ‘friend’ status on Facebook.”
As it turns out, Sergeant Lara wasn’t the only employee to have convicted friends on Facebook. While an intimate relationship or heavy communication between a guard an inmate through a social network is not allowed, there really is no harm in having a criminal on your friends list.