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Mississippi Inmate Has Active Online Life, Contacts Victim's Family

With her jailed ex-boyfriend using Facebook to contact her family, a Mississippi woman wants to know why inmates have what seems to be unrestricted access to the Internet.

Pamela Owens says her ex-boyfriend, Antonio Yates, has been sending messages to her sister via Facebook, Mississippi News Now reports. Yates is currently in Hinds County Jail awaiting trial for allegedly carjacking Owens.

He was arrested on Aug. 4, according to the jail's records.

Being behind bars apparently hasn't kept Yates from using social media, messaging people he knows, and even posting photos from jail showing him and other inmates mean-mugging the camera.

A screenshot from Facebook shows a message Yates allegedly sent to Owens' sister, telling her, "Owens made a whole story of me stealing her car."

Owens said she was disturbed when she realized Yates still had Internet access — and apparently wasn't forbidden from contacting her family — while behind bars.

"It's very scary because he is locked up and still has access to out here," Owens told Mississippi News Now.

Yates' social life may be cramped by his current situation, but his social media life doesn't appear to be.

Yates has apparently been posting photos regularly to his active accounts; several of them show him posing next to shirtless inmates, flashing signs at the camera, and hanging out with his friends on the cell block.

Some of the photos show Yates and other inmates with big smiles on their faces, and two photographs show other inmates with what appear to be smartphones, headphones and audio players.

The Hinds County Sheriff's Office did not respond to requests for comment from Mississippi News Now, and it wasn't clear if the jail has policies concerning Internet access and possession of devices like smartphones.

Access to the Internet for inmates has been a contentious issue in the U.S. Advocates say inmates should be permitted to use the Internet so they can keep themselves up to date on technology while they serve time, and to allow them to search for potential jobs when they're released, The Washington Post reports.

Others have argued that Internet access is a fundamental right in an increasingly wired world, no different than access to mail or telephones, and barring inmates from using the Internet denies them a voice in public discourse.

A handful of states allow inmates in minimum-security prisons to use the Internet, while states like Louisiana allow inmates to begin using the internet 45 days before they're released to facilitate job searches.

While prisons are state-run and subject to the laws of the state, county jails are run by individual sheriffs who can set their own policies. Inmates in county jails are typically low-level offenders or people accused of crimes who are awaiting court dates, while prisons house convicts who have been sentenced to more than one year of incarceration.

For her part, Owens says she worries that if Yates can contact her so easily, he may also have friends watching her.

"I have all kinds of thoughts and stuff that goes through my head," she said. "I would like for them to get this under control, because they should not have access to us, the victims, or victim's family."

Yates is awaiting trial on the original carjacking charge, as well as two counts of possession of a controlled substance. A date for the Mississippi man's next court appearance has not been listed.

Sources: Mississippi News Now, The Washington Post, Hinds County Sheriff's Office / Photo credit: Hinds County Sheriff's Office

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