22/06/14 Social Networking to be available to inmates
Prisoners are using a new social networking site to post potentially sensitive information, protest their innocence and even look for love on the outside.
The world-first website, iexpress.org.au, has been established by prisoner advocacy group Justice Action to help inmates’ rehabilitation by providing a platform for self-expression and aspiration.
Prisoners can ask Justice Action to upload any images and words to their profile and set up a personal email address for contact with the public.
Justice Action co-ordinator Brett Collins believes the publicly-accessible website is a “game-changer” that will “explode” with popularity.
Two dozen inmates have already set up profiles, including Sydney murderer John Meyn and “Little Pebble” cult rapist William Kamm.
The family of Meyn’s victim, Yvette Rathbone, were shocked and upset to learn that he had used his page to argue his innocence against his murder charge and list his hobbies in prison, which include Scrabble, card games and model boat building.
Meyn was convicted of bashing and strangling his ex-partner and mother of his two children in 2011. On the site he wrote: ‘‘I was convicted after pleading not guilty to murder because I believe that manslaughter was the more appropriate charge.’’
Ms Rathbone’s sister, Val Chalker, said allowing him to make such statements was “just wrong”.
“I don’t have any hatred for him but he needs to face up to what he’s done rather than have a public forum to express these views,” she said.
One inmate, Wagga Wagga murderer Shane Symss, used his profile to allege slave labour-type conditions in prison and assaults by correctional officers.
Others have used it to ask for forgiveness, upload poetry and artworks, seek correspondence with women or share mundane details of life on the inside.
Kamm, who was jailed in 2005 for rape, reveals that he spends his days cooking meals for lactose- and gluten-intolerant prisoners and doing painting and ceramics.
Victims rights campaigner Ken Marslew was consulted on the project and said he supports the concept but had reservations about its potential to be abused by prisoners.
“We need to help an offender to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society and part of that is building up their self-esteem,” he said. “But they shouldn’t be able to taunt their victims.”
Corrective Services NSW said it doesn’t support the project because of the “potential adverse impact on victims and witnesses of material that might appear on the site”.
A spokeswoman said legal advice was being sought however Fairfax understands there is nothing they can do to stop the site because it is administered by the public.
As prisoners don’t have internet access, Justice Action uploads images and words for them.
Emails sent to the inmates’ personal addresses are printed out and hand-delivered to them by Justice Action. They also type up responses on behalf of prisoners to email back to members of the public.
Mr Collins said normal censorship rules apply and nothing defamatory or aggressive is posted however the profiles were “not regulated by state approval [and] is controlled by themselves”.
“It is their opportunity to answer criticisms, offer their responses and present themselves as they want to be, even in aspirational forms,” he said. “It is an opportunity for restorative justice. It is their opportunity to be a real person with all the complexity and dimensions that we all have.”
He expects the website’s email function will result in a huge increase in outside contact for prisoners.
“It is much better than being angry and frustrated in a cell for years with no stimulation except an idiot box and drugs,” he said.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks said prisoners deserved the basic right of expression, although there were some limits.
“Unless anyone can show it’s unlawful it should have a right to exist. It is legitimate for prisoners to have some means of expressing themselves publically but it is a sensitive area,” he said.
When in opposition, the Liberal party asked for a law banning the use of social networks by, or on behalf of, prisoners and even called for third parties to be prosecuted.
Attorney-General Brad Hazzard declined to answer Fairfax’s questions.
From Sydney Morning Herald Jun 22, 2014