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AZ Prisoners Can't Access Internet, But the Net Accesses Them

A state law that went into effect July 18, 2000 makes it a Class 1 Misdemeanor for Arizona prisoners to "send mail or receive mail from a communication service provider or remote computing service." The law imposes penalties for any prisoner that "corresponds or attempts to correspond with a communication service provider or remote computing service" or for "any person who accesses the provider's or service's internet web site at the inmate's request."

The stated purpose of the law, according to a "fact sheet" distributed by the Arizona State Senate, is to prohibit "prison inmates from posting or retrieving internet information either personally or through a third party."

The preamble to H.B. 2376, which passed by a wide margin and became law (Arizona Revised Statutes, § 31-242) when signed by the governor March 31, 2000, states:

"Arizona inmates do not currently have access to the internet. However, many prison inmates use third parties to do business with Internet service providers. The inmate can contact friends, family or an Internet service provider via paper mail services in order to post information online from outside the prison. The friend, family member or service provider can then collect any responses to the inmate's posted information and mail those responses to the prisoner, again using paper mail. In this fashion, inmates have access to pen pal services, online chats, and personal web sites."

The law states that non-prisoners would be prosecuted only for "actions done at the inmate's request rather than on the inmate's behalf," but fails to clarify how such a distinction might be made.

Although Arizona prisoners, under the dictates of this law, are prohibited from accessing the Internet the Internet now offers the rest of the world unparalleled access to information about them. The Arizona DOC established an Internet site that identifies all prisoners in the justice system and their current status (

DOC Director Terry Stewart said the website, called "Inmate Datasearch," is the most comprehensive public inmate database in the United States. It contains records of 112,000 current or former state prisoners, dating from 1985. Information in the database includes aliases, prison location, birth dates and release dates revised weekly.

Sources: Reader Mail, ADOC Press Release

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