Illinois Corrections Sets New Social Media Policy for Staff

Following Injustice Watch reporting last month about more than two dozen state correctional employees who participated in conversations that mocked or disclosed personal information about transgender inmates in private Facebook groups, the Illinois Department of Corrections announced a revised social media policy for its roughly 12,000 employees that goes into effect over the weekend.

The newly revised social media policy specifically bars employees from sharing confidential information about prisoners or other staff, including details about current or past investigations and criminal or civil proceedings involving the department. The policy also prohibits any content that is vulgar, obscene, threatening, discriminatory, or disparaging based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The department quietly rolled out a new social media policy on Nov. 1, but revised it this month to specifically prohibit disparaging individuals based on their gender identity.

New employees will be taught the policy prior to beginning their service, and all staffers will undergo training on the policy on an annual basis, the policy states.

In the two private Facebook groups, posts written by low-level officers, sergeants, lieutenants, and other correctional staffers degraded transgender women, outed other LGBTQ prisoners, alleged sexual acts and disclosed information about medical treatments prisoners received.

The policy also prohibits employees from sharing a wide range of information related to their employment with the department on social media, including their rank, title or position, department seals, logos, uniforms, and name tags, without express permission from the director.

All of the corrections officers named in Injustice Watch’s reporting had publicly identified themselves on social media as corrections staffers, had posted about their specific roles or had photos of themselves in uniform online.

In an emailed statement, prison director Rob Jeffreys said that the department does not tolerate the use of disparaging language in person or online, and that the department created a policy that “ensures all staff members have clear guidance on how to demonstrate the highest levels of integrity, professionalism, and ethical conduct while engaging on these platforms.”

Before the October reporting was published, Injustice Watch provided the Illinois Department of Corrections with images of comments made by nine of the employees whose posts would be highlighted in the article. According to corrections spokeswoman Lindsey Hess, each of those nine officers are either in the process of having an employee review hearing, or have already had such a hearing.

Earlier this month, in keeping with a prior offer, Injustice Watch sat down with corrections officials and provided full threads of materials from the two Facebook groups, including information about an additional set of Facebook users who presented themselves as department staffers but whose identities could not be confirmed. Hess said this week that the department is in the process of verifying whether any of those officers are department employees.

Prior to the new social media policy, department employees were required to abide by the department’s standards of conduct that barred on or off duty behavior that could reflect poorly on the department. The department also had in place rules that prohibited employees from disclosing information related to offender’s records.

The new policy warns that employees should have no expectation of privacy when using social media.

The nonprofit news outlet Injustice Watch provided this article to The Associated Press through a collaboration with Institute for Nonprofit News.

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