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Inmates using Facebook, cell phones to harass their victims, accusers, witnesses

Inmates are using social networks, cell phones to harass their victims, accusers, witnesses AP Photo, file

Inmates are using social networks, cell phones to harass their victims, accusers, witnesses
AP Photo, file

(CBS/AP) SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Lisa Gesik hesitates to log into her Facebook account nowadays because of unwanted "friend" requests, not from long-ago classmates but from the ex-husband now in prison for kidnapping her and her daughter.

Neither Gesik nor prison officials can prove her ex-husband is sending her the messages, which feature photos of him wearing his prison blues and dark sunglasses, arms crossed as he poses in front of a prison gate. It doesn't matter if he's sending them or someone else is -- the Newport, Ore., woman is afraid and, as the days tick down to his January release, is considering going into hiding with her 12-year-old daughter.

"It's just being victimized all over again," she said.

Across the U.S. and beyond, inmates are using social networks and the growing numbers of smartphones smuggled into prisons and jails to harass their victims or accusers and intimidate witnesses. California corrections officials who monitor social networking sites said they have found many instances in which inmates taunted victims or made unwanted sexual advances.

Like Gesik's case, it's often difficult for authorities to determine for sure who's sending the threatening material and the few people caught rarely face serious consequences.

"The ability to have these kinds of contacts is increasing exponentially. In many ways, the law has not caught up with these changing technologies," said Rob Bovett, an Oregon district attorney whose office prosecuted Gesik's ex-husband, Michael Gladney.

The issue has emerged as cell phones have proliferated behind bars. In California, home to the nation's largest inmate population, the corrections department confiscated 12,625 phones in just 10 months this year. Six years ago, they found just 261. The number of phones confiscated by the federal Bureau of Prisons has doubled since 2008, to 3,684 last year.

Noting the increase, California legislators approved a law bringing up to six months in jail for corrections employees or visitors who smuggle mobile devices into state prisons, while inmates caught with the phones can now lose up to 180 days of early-release credit. But no additional time is added to their sentence which minimizes the deterrence factor.

In Gesik's case, Gladney used to harass her the old-fashioned way by sending letters and making phone calls through third parties. The Facebook harassment began in June. The 44-year-old mother got prison officials to contact Facebook to remove that account, only to have another message appearing to be from him in September. This time, there was a different spelling of his last name.

"I figure, if he's done all this from in prison, what's he's going to do when he gets out?" Gesik said.

  • Crimesider Staff

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