Texas Reinstates Prison Guard Who Was Facebook Friends With Inmate

By David Cohen 

With more than 1 million people in Texas currently in prison, on parole, or on probation, and some 40,000 employees working in prisons in the state, the law of averages dictates that some prison employees, guards, and parole officers were bound to be Facebook friends with convicts, so it is no longer a cause for termination in the state.

The Austin American-Statesman reported the news following the reinstatement of Prison Sgt. Heath Lara of Huntsville, who was fired last April for being Facebook friends with Gary Wayne Sanders, who is serving 72 years for a Fort Worth murder in 1990, in the prison where Lara worked.

Lara argued at the time that Sanders was a high school acquaintance, and he did not know Sanders was imprisoned, much less at the facility known as “The Walls” in downtown Huntsville, which houses 1,700 convicts and has 443 employees, the newspaper reported.

As it turns out, the American-Statesman reported, Sanders also had another more prominent Facebook friend: Texas Department of Criminal Justice Director of Finance Jerry McGinty, who was also unaware of Sanders’ imprisonment and immediately defriended him upon learning of it.

According to the American-Statesman, because he had no previous disciplinary violations, and he proved that he had no relationship with Sanders beyond being Facebook friends, Lara was eventually reinstated, but other employees in similar positions with similar stories have not met with the same fate.

Lance Lowry, president of a Huntsville local of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which represents prison guards, told the newspaper:

There’s almost no way a correctional officer — or anyone else, for that matter — can tell if any one of their Facebook friends are convicts, parolees, or ex-convicts. With more than 1 million people in Texas now incarcerated, on parole, or probation, there’s a pretty good chance some of those Facebook friends are or have been in the criminal justice system at one time.

Retired Huntsville prison guard John Wheeler had a different opinion, telling the American-Statesman:

I don’t know why anyone in the prison business would want to be on Facebook, with their family photos and everything out there for anyone to see. You’re just asking for trouble, on the job and off.

Readers: Do you think Wheeler is right about prison employees not belonging on Facebook?