Social Media Sex Offender Bans in Question

A recent New Jersey appellate court ruling said that the prohibition of paroled sex offenders from using major online social media is constitutional. The underlying rationale of this decision was public policy concerns over exposing the population to possible exploitation. A prior 1995 ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which found that sex offenders are more likely to reoffend than other parolees, served as a basis for the Nov. 26 opinion.

The catalyst of controversy in the case is a state parole board policy implemented in 2012 that makes accessing online social media sites a parole violation for those who have been convicted of sex crimes. Two anonymous plaintiffs responded by stating that such a broad ban violates their First Amendment right to free speech, but the court held that the ban was in accordance with state law.

It was observed that participation in society has become virtually impossible without social media access. However, while acknowledging the many harmless purposes of social media websites, a superior court judge cited protecting individuals from potential harm from paroled sex offenders as a paramount consideration for the three-judge panel. It was stated that parolees can request exemptions from the ban for work or similar purposes.

While the court believes that the ban is balanced between the interests of public safety and constitutional liberties, others believe that social media sites can aid recovering parolees. It was also stated that, because of the prevalence of social media sites, parolees are being banned from society itself. Because social networking is believed to be important for those who need access to emotional support and services, parolees may choose to argue against the ruling in court.

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