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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.