Facebook backs California law to give internet to incarcerated youth

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CHICAGO, IL - MAY 17: An inmate at the Cook County Jail compete in a chess tournament online with inmates from the Prison Complex of Viana in Espirito Santo state in Brazil on May 17, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Inmates from Cook County won the tournament 4.5-3.5. This is the third time the jail has organized an international chess competition for its inmates. The Cook County Jail, which houses more than 7,000 inmates, is the largest county jail in the country. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO — A proposed bill in California would give kids in juvenile facilities the right to internet access, and Facebook is throwing its support behind it.

“Many teens are placed in locations far from their homes and families, making availability of electronic communication to maintain supportive relationships even more important,” Ann Blackwood, Facebook policy head for western states, wrote in a letter supporting the bill.

She said computer literacy and the internet are important educational tools, as well as a means to communicate with family. Blackwood sent the letter on Friday to Assemblymember Mike Gipson, the Los Angeles Democrat who introduced the bill earlier this year. A copy of the letter was provided to CNNTech.

Facebook allows kids as young as 13 to open an account.

Blackwood said the bill would “appropriately modernize” the resources available for youth to successfully reintegrate with society.

The bill, AB 811, would limit internet use and computer technology in detention facilities — allowing it to be used only for educational purposes and to keep in touch with family and supportive adults. Probation officers could adopt further policies restricting the use.

The bill also mandates internet access for youth in foster care.

California isn’t the first state to consider providing online resources to youth in detention. Since 2013, incarcerated youth in Oregon have been allowed access to podcasts, videos and other resources to supplement learning. Online browsing history is strictly monitored to ensure students’ safety.

In April, Lucy Salcido Carter, policy advocate at the Youth Law Center and lead sponsor of the bill, told CNNTech that access to tech tools provide kids in detention with a sense of normalcy.

“They have basic rights to education and to maintain connections with family, and yet we deny them access to technology, which is the means most people use to maintain contact with people,” she said.

The bill goes before Committee on Public Safety and the Committee on Human Services this week. A spokesperson for Gipson’s office said no other tech company has sent support for this bill.