Prisons Switch Device Providers; Render $11.3 Million Of Inmate-Purchased Music Worthless
from the fucked-up dept
Yet again, when it comes to digital goods, you don’t own what you buy. Inmates in Florida’s prison system are learning this fact of life, thanks to a change in jail “entertainment” providers.
In April last year, the Florida Department of Corrections struck a deal with JPay. The private company, spearheading a push to sell profit-driven multimedia tablets to incarcerated people across the country, would be allowed to bring the technology to every facility in the nation’s third-largest prison system.
But there was a catch.
Inmates had already been purchasing electronic entertainment for the last seven years — an MP3 player program run by a different company: Access Corrections. For around $100, Access sold various models of MP3 players that inmates could then use to download songs for $1.70 each. Inmates could keep them in their dorms.
The demand was clear. More than 30,299 players were sold, and 6.7 million songs were downloaded over the life of the Access contract, according to the Department of Corrections. That’s about $11.3 million worth of music.
Because of the tablets, inmates will have to return the players, and they can’t transfer the music they already purchased onto their new devices.
The corrections system is switching to JPay. Unfortunately, nothing else is switching. Money isn’t easy to obtain in prison, meaning most of this suddenly useless music was purchased with funds from friends and family at inflated prices. The prison system comes out of it OK. It has collected $11.3 million on the sale of worthless infinite goods to a literally captive audience.
Now, with a lucrative JPay contract in effect, inmates are out millions of dollars in digital goods. The only options to keep what they purchased means shelling out more cash for the opportunity to put their purchased music completely out of reach.
The Department of Corrections negotiated an extension with Access Corrections to allow inmates to keep their MP3 players until January 23, 2019 if they choose not to participate in the tablet program.
Manderfield, the department spokesman, said that a department code prohibits inmates from owning more than one MP3 player at a time, but even without that, inmates would be able to keep the players because the contract is ending and there would be no way to service them.
Once returned, the inmates can pay a $25 fee to have their device unlocked or their music downloaded onto a CD before being shipped out to a non-prison address.
All of this stupidity is made possible by greed, greed, and more greed. First, the move to JPay gives Florida prisons even more money: $2.75 every time someone adds money to a JPay account, as well as a cut of any new content sold to inmates for the new devices. This has already resulted in $3.9 million in commissions over a twelve-month period covering April 2017 to March 2018.
The music end involves greed as well. Licensing is a nightmare, thanks to the endless meddling of music labels and performance rights organizations. An MP3 should be able to travel to any other device that supports that format, but it never does (especially not if the devices are controlled by an outside contractor). Licensing fees paid by Access Corrections apparently don’t cover transfers of infinite goods to devices produced and sold by someone else. JPay handles its own licensing and even if it covers much of the purchased music, that’s just not acceptable to everyone up the line waiting with their hands out.
People who don’t have much money or any way to earn much of it are out $11.3 million. The prison gets paid. The service contractors get paid. The labels and PROs get paid. Everyone comes out of this fine except for the people who paid for the goods. If they want to “own” more music, they’ll be paying everyone else twice for something they bought.