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Texas Prisons Approve Facebook Friending between Inmates and Officers

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It might seem reasonable to assume that a prison guard and an inmate would not naturally be friendly to one another. A recent incident in the Texas Corrections System, however, is belying that notion -- with a social media twist.

Heath Lara, a prison sergeant at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, was fired from his job after officials learned that he had friended inmate Gary Wayne Sanders on Facebook. Sergeant Lara was dismissed for violating a rule that prohibits fraternization between officers and prisoners. Sergeant Lara appealed the decision, claiming that he had known Sanders in high school and was not aware that Sanders was an inmate in the jail where he worked.

The appeal was initially denied but later upheld, and Sergeant Lara was reinstated two weeks ago. A review found that Sergeant Lara had no real relationship with the inmate. The Texas State Department of Criminal Justice also decided that friendship on Facebook between inmates and guards is permitted. The department concluded that there is no practical way to monitor the Facebook accounts of 40,000 employees and 154,000 convicts. Jason Clark, the public information officer for the department, said, "To violate the policy has to be more than just 'friend' status on Facebook." Plus, it turns out that Sergeant Lara was not the only corrections employee to have friended Sanders on Facebook. So it seems that social media has even made America's prison systems a little friendlier.

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