Florida's prisons change tech providers, wipe out $11.2m worth of music purchased by prisoners

For seven years, Florida state inmates could buy a $100 MP3 player from Access Corrections, the prisons' exclusive provider, and stock it with MP3s that cost $1.70 — nearly double the going rate in the free world.

All told, prisoners spent $11.2 million on these digital assets, using money their families deposited to their accounts, paying high service charges every time they did so.

But Access Corrections lost its bid to renew its contract with the state; now prisoners will get their digital files from market leader (and fucking nightmare) Jpay, a division of the Orwellian surveillance contractor Securus.

Neither Jpay, nor the Florida Department of Corrections, nor Access Corrections, can think of any possible way for these files to be transferred to the new devices. So all those millions of dollars' worth of music will be lost to prisoners.

The lucky ones will be able to get their families — who, remember, are struggling to survive without the support and wages of an incarcerated relative — to send them money to repurchase all that music (which is a boon to both Jpay and to the Department of Corrections, whose deal with Jpay gives them a cut from each transaction, which the department gets to keep and spend).

The unlucky ones will lose one of the few comforts they have inside a notoriously overcrowded, under-resourced penal system, whose population is far more likely to be racialized than is statistically explicable, unless, of course, you think that possibly Florida's cops, prosecutors and judges are racist assholes.

The volume of complaints was such that, in December 2017, the Department of Corrections created a new code to track the complaints. Since then, more than 260 additional appeals have been received.

Patrick Manderfield, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the switch is meant to introduce updated technology that will help inmates connect with their families and provide educational opportunities, whereas the MP3 players offered only entertainment. He said the songs cannot be transferred because the "devices/services are provided by two different vendors."

"We have made every effort to ensure inmates can retain non-transferable music by sending their devices and music to an outside address," Manderfield said.

Florida inmates spent $11.3 million on MP3s. Now prisons are taking the players. [Ben Conarck/Jacksonville Times-Union]

Captive Audience: How Florida's Prisons and DRM Made $11.3M Worth of Prisoners' Music Disappear
[Cory Doctorow/EFF Deeplinks]