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Do Conditions of Parole Violate the First Amendment?

For those registrants under parole, commonly referred to as “supervision”, it comes as quite a shock when you are first informed that you can’t have a smartphone or access to the internet, all violations of parole for most registrants.

Access to the internet in today’s techno-crazed world is no longer a minor inconvenience, according to some state Supreme Courts as in the Packingham case in North Carolina and the most recent  Ross case in West Virginia, it’s a violation of the First Amendment rights of those registrants on parole.

The internet is the new town square. It is the source for current events, it is the place to hear and be heard. It is the starting point for exploring thought and gaining knowledge and insight to the world at large. It’s where you go to find anything, good, bad or otherwise.

Everything you need to know is there.  The days of finding names and addresses in the phone book is long gone as are finding travel directions on fold-out paper maps.

Encyclopedias have gone the way of the dinosaur. School or work textbooks are often online.

The following are just a few of the daily things that require computer access to function in today’s world:

Locating physicians and accessing their healthgrade scores.

Patient portals for your medical records, messages to and from your physician, new patient paperwork, hospital admission paperwork, lab results, all on patient portals, all online.

Skyping with physicians for medical appointments, after normal business hours, requires a computer.

Job hunting, job schedules,requests for time-off, pay stubs, continuing education, work emails, work benefits, work rewards programs, all done via computer.

Ability to advance in your job is guaranteed to require that you are able to access a computer.

Managing your healthcare benefits, your home and auto insurance accounts, all done on the computer.

Taxes, on the computer. (And the government is very big on wanting everyone to do electronic filing!)

Medication formularies, the ability to compare drug prices, all online.

Banking, online. Bill paying, online.

Interaction with children’s schools and teachers, online.

Downloading music, on line;records, cd’s, even MP3 players are ancient.

Keeping abreast of news relating to changes in sex offender laws, all on the internet.

To function in today’s society you must be connected to the internet. To be kept informed, to be able to have a voice in changing laws, to find jobs, housing, keep in contact with family and friends, registrants need to be able to access computers.

The West Virginia case, the highlights of which can be read on the WAR website, is a bit confusing.

Mr. Ross was let out of jail in May 2014.  A condition of his parole was that he was prohibited from possessing or having contact with any device that enabled internet access during his parole.

He moved in with his girlfriend who had a computer and internet access, but it was password protected.  There is no evidence that Mr. Ross ever accessed her computer.

Then, in Dec. 2014, Mr. Ross’s parole officer learned that Mr. Ross’s girlfriend had a computer and Mr. Ross was promptly arrested and thrown back in jail for parole violation.

Just from experience, when a registrant moves anywhere, the P.O.’s check to see if there’s internet access and if it’s password protected. They do thorough searches. So why did it come as a surprise to the P.O. in Dec. 2014, 8 months after he had been out of jail and living with his girlfriend, that there was a computer in the home.  And if there was a computer and it was password protected and there was no evidence that Mr. Ross ever accessed it, where is the parole violation?

This poor guy got thrown back in prison for another 3 years, for what? Where was the violation?

Well, Mr. Ross got himself an attorney and as it turns out, the parole board’s decision to revoke his probation was “unconstitutional”. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals also found that the revocation was without support of evidence and contrary to West Virginia’s parole laws and that completely restricting a person’s access to the internet as a condition of their parole from prison is a violation of the First Amendment.

So now we’ve got North Carolina and West Virginia both finding that their state statutes prohibiting registrants from accessing the internet is an over broad restriction of the right to free speech, clearly in violation of the First Amendment.

The registrant movement is clearly making progress.



6 thoughts on “Do Conditions of Parole Violate the First Amendment?

  • Dennis Shaffer

    I keep praying that things will change for sex offenders in a positive way like the Lord’s Prayer says thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I know there are many praying for us and we will soon be healed as the leopards were years ago.

  • Katie Roberson

    Missouri does the same thing.. pray this movement takes hold

    • Candice Coleman

      The probation/parole book for S.O. states that the PO officer is to have access to all computers and accounts used and/or accessed by the S.O. Here is what is in the ‘orange’ book (probation/parole for sex offenders):

      “589.042 RSMo.
      – Provides Probation and Parole the authority to require a sexual
      offender who is required to register to give the assigned probation and parole officer
      access to the offender’s personal home computer in order to monitor and prevent such
      offender from obtaining and keeping child pornography or from committing a sexual offense. ”

      • Candice,
        I guess this is dependent on where you are in the probation scheme of things and maybe even where you live.
        Some of those who are “newly” on probation in TN have “zero” access to computers whether they be laptops, smartphones, ipads, or even computers at their workplace. How can one ever advance in their job if they can’t access a computer?
        It’s going to have to change soon as registrants get further and further behind in a technological world that they must integrate back into.

        • The probation office in Tennessee is taking into consideration what is being found unconstitutional in other states and they are changing things before it comes to our state as being unconstitutional. After 9 years my husband was allowed access to a computer and the internet. He was happy that he was finally able to pay the bills and do normal things like read the news, etc. but, the stipulation was that he would have to have a monitoring program on the computer. His probation officer gets a copy of the report of everything he looks up. Covenant Eyes sends the report to the probation officer. My husband can have a smart phone so he’s happy with that to. I’m glad and thank God he made a way for this to happen for my hubby. We live in Tennessee. It’s not easy but so far it is manageable. I just wish the restrictions were fewer and less strict so we could ‘live’ and do normal outside activities; visit parks and swim in public pools. We, the family, are collaterals damage.


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