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A Miranda warning for social media

Those temporarily calling the Pasco County jail home just got a perk when it comes to conversing with the outside world.

Call it a kind of Facebook for felons — accused ones, anyway.

Inmates can now email people who have agreed to communicate with them for 50 cents a missive, a buck to get a photo. This is a vast improvement over the snail-mail postcards some jails limit their inmates to receiving to avoid having to screen for contraband in actual letters. (Hey, remember actual letters?)

Before we get to grousing about this outrageous abuse of our taxpayer pennies, turns out the service works like a vending machine and doesn't cost us anything. In fact, the Sheriff's Office's cut of 25 percent is expected to net them something like $50,000 after a year.

Now: a Miranda warning for inmates itching to get their fingertips on those keys:

The government is already on your "friends" list, like it or not.

They're already there when it comes to phone calls. A few years ago, a Tampa jury listened to a recorded jailhouse phone conversation in which a murder suspect told a family member he had finally broken "every single one" of the Ten Commandments.

And remember George Zimmerman of stand-your-ground infamy getting his bail revoked after he was accused of fudging about his finances before trial — in recorded jail conversation with his wife?

This type of evidence gets gathered despite the fact that jails tend to post big signs that say things like ALL CALLS SUBJECT TO MONITORING AND RECORDING. Turns out they mean it.

Now it's social media — that communications "advancement" that makes it all too easy to spontaneously message your ex or display embarrassing details of your weekend for your boss to see.

In Hillsborough County, Circuit Judge Dan Perry, who hears probation violations, has seen interesting items on probationers' Facebook pages. Recently he inquired about a picture posted of a plant in a probationer's home, helpfully dated, which the probationer admitted was marijuana. (A plant he found "beautiful," he explained.)

Another, also helpfully dated, showed a man who was supposed to abstain from alcohol while on probation brandishing a beer.

Yet another fellow Instagrammed a photo of himself outside Hillsborough Judge Greg Holder's courtroom after he was sentenced. "(Insert really bad name to call a judge here) put me on paper," it said, paper being slang for probation. Probably it did not help that the next picture posted (and seen by a judge) was of said probationer smoking a short, fat, hand-rolled cigarette.

It's like we can't help ourselves. Look at me, being bad!

Though you can't exactly accuse the authorities of being on the sneak here. With the new Pasco email system, users sign off on an agreement that says in part the correctional facility may review the content of messages and pictures.

"We monitor social media," says sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll. "It's just one of our tools,"

They even have a software program to search out keywords, presumably "marijuana," "murder" and such.

So, how long before someone emails an admission of guilt or sends out pictures of ill-gotten gains anyway? I give it a month.

A Miranda warning for social media 12/24/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 7:08pm]
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