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In re: Jackie Robinson - when is electronic media contraband in prison?

Today the Court of Appeal of California issued a decision In re Jackie Robinson, 2017 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 8647 (Cal. App.), that affirmed a lower court ruling on a prisoner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Robinson's petition alleged that this property was improperly withheld from him. It included, "one Seagate portable hard drive, one SanDisk 16 GB micro SD card,one silver Dell Inspiron laptop computer, one Kingston16 GB micro card, one silver PlayStation Portable (PSP) gaming device, and one black PSP." (Id. at *3). Robinson was detained at a state hospital. The items were determined to be contraband. The lower court ordered that he was allowed to send them to someone of his own choosing.

The Court of Appeal rejected the argument that the laptop would not be contraband under the hospital’s rules if its internet accessibility were disabled. The fact that it could be used for online communications was sufficient.

The portable hard drive and the memory card were also ruled to be contraband because they included tethering software that can be used with a cell phone to get online. So whether or not a device can connect to the internet is not the sole issue - if it can enable internet access it will also be considered contraband.

The court relied on testimony by a sergeant for the hospital police who testified that it would be necessary to open each file on Robinson’s devices in order to confirm that they did not constitute contraband. The court rejected what appears to have been a practical solution proposed by the hospital inmate:

“Robinson suggests software could be purchased to automate this process. We decline to impose such an unreasonable institutional burden on the DSH-C. Even if this were feasible, it would be unreasonable to require the DSH-C to modify all confiscated property so as to remove any contraband components or materials.” Id. at 16-17.

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