About 10 days ago, we reported on a peculiar case where inmates in Idaho were able to hack their tablets and steal a quarter of a million dollars. The tablets used a digital credits system that allowed inmates to purchase services and digital content, including sending and receiving email, listening to music, and playing games.
After reading this piece of news, most readers will understandably come out with the following impression: “inmates, bad; prison digital content system, good.” But nothing can be farther from the truth.
The prices charged in exchanges for the services on offer are exorbitant. Sending an email costs close to half a dollar. This means that it would take an inmate working a 10-cents-an-hour prison job 5 hours of work just to be able to send one email. It becomes evident that the purpose of this system isn’t so much about keeping inmates connected to the outside world and making their life easier, it was clearly designed to exploit them.
Now the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international non-profit digital rights group, is reporting that some prisoners in Florida will be robbed of $11.3M worth of music.
How Did It Happen?
The Florida Department of Corrections simply decided to terminate its contract with Access Corrections, the company that sold mp3 players to inmates and maintained the digital store through which they were able purchase their music. The termination comes in favor of Access Corrections’ rival, Jpay.
Not Much of a Choice
Neither Jpay nor Access Corrections have provided prisoners with a way to move their libraries across devices. Prisoners are also forbidden from owning more than one device at a time.
This means that prisoners are now faced with the choice of keeping their old devices but losing the ability to buy new music, or jumping on the Jpay bandwagon and losing all the music that they had already purchased.
Over the 7 year period in which Access Corrections had the rights to sell inmates their services, the company made $11.3 million in music sales. It should be noted that a song cost $1.70, nearly twice the cost of a song purchased through marketplaces by Apple and Google.
Inmates will also be able to keep their Access Corrections MP3 players, which they purchased for $100, until January 23, 2019.
The Department of Corrections issued this statement in response to complaints from inmates.
“It is unfortunate that the music cannot be transferred, however, we hope that overtime (sic) the family and the inmate will see the added value of the new program.”
This simply reeks of dishonesty. From a technical perspective, there are simply no convincing reasons why the files can’t be transferred. “The decision to prevent prisoners from keeping the music they bought at a steep markup is a purely commercial one,” the EFF post concludes.
Patrick Manderfield, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, tried to soften the blow saying: “We have made every effort to ensure inmates can retain non-transferable music by sending their devices and music to an outside address.”
It should also be noted that the Florida Department of Corrections also benefits from the scheme, earning a commision from money transfered into Jpay accounts.