Florida Prison Inmates Sue State In Digital Music Dispute

February 20, 2019

Florida inmates are accusing state corrections officials of effectively stealing millions of dollars’ worth of digital music and books to benefit a new contractor.

Attorneys with the Social Justice Law Collective and the Florida Justice Institute filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday in Tallahassee, alleging a Department of Corrections program is unconstitutional because it doesn’t allow inmates to access more than $11 million worth of music bought for music players the agency has now banned.

The department in 2011 started allowing inmates in some facilities to purchase and download digital content to MP3 and MP4 players made specifically for prisoners, according to the lawsuit. About three years later, the department expanded the program and contracted with a company that had already been running the program, Keefe Commissary Network, LLC, doing business as “Access Corrections,” to take it statewide.

Prisoners could buy digital media players for $99.95 or $119.95, accessories for the players, and songs or files for $1.70 each. Prisoners were also required to purchase blocks of “prepaid media credits,” which required them to buy a minimum of five files or songs for $8.50.

Inmates used the “prepaid credits” at kiosks, where they could transfer their files to a cloud-based library. They could also use the kiosks, located inside the prisons, to transfer files from the cloud to digital players. Inmates had to connect their players to a kiosk every 30 days, for security purposes, or the device would be disabled, and they weren’t allowed to have players or files that weren’t purchased through the program.

The department, according to the lawsuit, “published numerous advertisements,” posted throughout prisons, “touting the qualities of the digital media players” and promising prisoners, “once music is purchased, you’ll always own it!”

The department also repeatedly told prisoners they could delete and re-order media files they had already purchased, at no additional cost.

But, the lawsuit alleges, corrections officials never told inmates the digital files would only be available during the contract with Access Corrections.

“Based in no small part on the belief by FDOC prisoners that any purchases they made through the Digital Music Player Program could be accessed for the duration of their incarceration with the FDOC, the Digital Music Player Program was a financial success for the FDOC,” the inmates’ lawyers wrote in the 27-page complaint.

From 2011 to 2017, the agency received about $1.4 million in commissions from the $11.3 million in sales during the six years the program was in effect, the lawsuit says.

In 2017, the department ended its contract with Access Corrections and entered into a contract with a new vendor, Jpay Inc.

Department spokeswoman Michelle Glady said the agency is not receiving any commissions from its multi-media contract with Jpay. The department receives commissions from Jpay through a separate contract for inmate banking services, she said.

Under the Jpay “Multimedia Tablet Program,” inmates can purchase tablets for $79.99 or $129.99 and download digital files.

In January 2018, after the tablet program was launched, the agency cut off access to prisoners’ cloud-based libraries and forced all inmates to surrender their digital media players when they received tablets. The agency set a deadline of Jan. 23, 2019, for inmates who didn’t want to participate in the tablet program to give up their digital players. The department allowed prisoners to send the old players to Access Corrections and pay $24.95 to have the players sent to people outside the prisons or have the files burned onto CDs and mailed to someone.

To encourage inmates to participate in the new program, agency officials offered a 50 percent discount on the tablets during the first 60 days and gave the tablets or sold them at a reduced cost to prisoners who had participated in the old program. They were also supposed to receive a $10 credit — regardless of the number of digital media files an inmate had purchased — within two weeks of placing their tablet orders. Inmates who were in the old program also receive a $25 annual allowance to buy files for their tablets, according to the corrections department.

Since the new program went into effect, “prisoners have written hundreds of grievances and administrative appeals complaining about the arbitrary confiscation of their property without compensation,” but the agency has denied the appeals, lawyers for the inmates wrote.

In response to the grievances and appeals, the agency “developed standard response language” acknowledging the “significant investment” prisoners and their families made in the old program but denied the appeals and continued to move forward with the tablet program, the lawsuit said.

Prisoners also can use the tablets to send emails, short videos or pictures, or for educational courses.

The lawyers filed the suit on behalf of William Demler, who was housed at the Hamilton Correctional Institution when he bought a digital media player for $99.95 in 2012 and who subsequently spent $569.50 to purchase 335 files. It also was filed on behalf of hundreds of other unnamed inmates.

Demler gave up his player in exchange for a free tablet in October, but he “was completely deprived of the use and enjoyment of all of his lawfully purchased songs and digital media files,” his lawyers wrote.

“The money he had invested in his digital media files has been effectively stolen from him,” the 27-page complaint reads.

The lawyers are seeking class-action status and allege that the taking of the digital media files “without just compensation” is unconstitutional. The lawyers also argue the new tablet program “is arbitrary and capricious, does not bear a substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals or welfare, has no rational basis, was undertaken for an improper motive, and is therefore an invalid exercise of police power,” and is an unconstitutional violation of rights to due process.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida


11 Responses to “Florida Prison Inmates Sue State In Digital Music Dispute”

  1. Curtis B on February 23rd, 2019 10:28 pm

    Kane, you’re completely correct. I just wonder when society will understand that we need to treat these prisoners humane or they will just be animals when they are released. The few ammenities they receive while in custody coupled with the enormous cost to the state and families is aweful. Tax payers bear a huge cost not only housing these folks, but when they do everything from sending a person money to visiting.

  2. David Huie Green on February 21st, 2019 2:15 pm

    “we have got and affidavit saying what the guy who did the crime told him an then years later the guy who did the crime recanted his story.”

    Or did he? And did he recant his confession or accusation? Was he lying then or later?

    Assuming your son is innocent, this is a good example of why it is better to live a life which would lead folks to believe in innocence when accused or suspected. There are many false accusations, many false confessions.

    David for making some things unthinkable

  3. Bill on February 21st, 2019 11:49 am

    For you folks that don’t know what they are talking about. First they are a lot of the guys that are innocent ,our son is on death row after years we have got and affidavit saying what the guy who did the crime told him an then years later the guy who did the crime recanted his story. He has been denied a retrial the judge over his trial got his Federal seat so that should tell you why.
    Our son who one of the c/o’s made it clear he could take him out, later our son had a heart attack that officer would not send him out or let the nurse send him out for an hour later when the supervisor stepped in and told him to send him out right then my son is OK but that officer a few weeks later had a massive heart attack and did not make it. I believed that god just showing all that he is still in charge.

  4. Kane on February 21st, 2019 1:41 am

    @ProudArmyParent I’m not defending the inmates im just pointing out that prison is not some social club where you are provided for 24/7 because some of you think it is. Also how do you know what the prisons are or are not serving when was the last time you ate a prison meal or even saw one?

    Prisoners most certainly do NOT get “polled” as to their food preference that is blatantly false. As for the pork not being served have you heard of “Kosher Meals” that is what prisoners that don’t eat pork are served and just up until a couple of months back they didn’t even have that option in this state.

    Please check your facts and do not spread misinformation.

    Kane for the truth.

  5. ProudArmyParent on February 20th, 2019 3:15 pm

    Kane on February 20th, 2019 1:50 pm, the food is considerably not bad. The menus are updated quite often and the inmates are actually surveyed as to what they preferred. (Don’t let your inmate feed you a line of bull.) Granted it isn’t home cooking, but when you consider you have to cook bland as not everyone can have salt. Then there are the “religious” that have forced the issue so no pork can be served. Then consider the State is having to feed so many inmates it has to be done for a reasonable cost. Finally it was not the State that committed the crime, and where there is crime there needs to be punishment. We are not talking about choir boys!
    As for medical, I wish my co-pay was $5. Personally I think inmates should have to foot their full medical bill. Once again the State didn’t commit the Felony.
    As for leaving prison unprepared for the streets, I would hope that the sheer experience of prison would prepare them to want to take their 2nd possibly 3rd or 4th chance to do the right thing. There are people that have never been to prison that don’t use computers! Life would be less of a hassle for so many if the would just put the devise down!
    Stay out of prison and these issues wouldn’t be an issue!

  6. Kane on February 20th, 2019 1:50 pm

    Wow lots of misconceptions here today so lets clear some up shall we. First I have family in prison and let me tell you they get nothing for free. The food is disgusting and barely edible we’re talking stuff you wouldn’t feed your dog. The inmates get most of their food from canteen with MONEY that THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS SEND THEM this money also pays for the music devices songs and any other media they get, if you don’t have money sent in from your people you don’t get tablets, canteen or anything else.

    Prisoners do not “just sit around all day” they have to work and do jobs in the prison itself you may not know this but prisons don’t hire janitors.
    The reason prisoners NEED TABLETS is when they get out they have no idea how the world works as the world changes rapidly these days. They will have no experience with technology without these tablets.

    In todays world most employers don’t use paper applications they only have “online” applications which if you do not know how to use the internet that is going to be a big problem for you. Even to file for foodstamps, unemployment, housing assistance almost any government service has to be done online now adays. That’s why inmates need tablets so they will have some sort of familiarity with the outside world. Not all prisoners are lifers.

    Healthcare in prison this is the saddest thing ever. It costs five dollars to see the prison nurse for anything from an infected cut to a massive coronary. Then if you are lucky enough to get a caring guard you might get to see the nurse that week maybe but probably not. My brother sat in his cell for three days after suffering a small stroke caused by Angina. THREE DAYS!!! But since he could talk and move it was considered non-life threatening.

    I hope this helps to educate some of you on what prison is really like. It is no “easy street” where you are pampered and cared for it is a punishment and honestly in a lot of caes the punishment does not fit the crime. The items you are reading about are paid for by the friends and family of the inmate not the state or the federal government or the tax payers.

    Kane for education.

  7. intersted on February 20th, 2019 12:45 pm

    When the inmate accepted the “free” tablet he gave up his right to complain about his “library” of songs.
    Now let’s talk about all the extra work that has been placed on the staff at FDOC institutions without any extra compensation given to them! Why is it J-pay contracted with FDOC to preform a service yet is actually the FDOC staff that is actually preforming the work? When inmate family members call J-pay to complain about the service J-pay actually hangs up on the people or tells them to contact the inmates institution. If the FDOC institution did that they would be fired!
    Seems J-pay is doing very little for all the money they are collecting. Where is the kick-back going is my question?

  8. Just saying on February 20th, 2019 10:19 am

    What don’t you get? They aren’t getting anything they are purchasing these things. And let’s not forget that Prison is punishment people do not go to prison to be punished.

  9. Mike Donello on February 20th, 2019 9:39 am

    Wow… Looking like jail and prison is better than the free world. Three free meals a day that I don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning or paying for, shelter and I don’t have to worry about paying rent, and music, free TV, and commissary and I can just relax all day. Free medical and faster medical care than at home. And of any of this is taken away I can just sue the agency and make $$$ off them! Haha Now THAT’S an incentive to commit crimes lol Hey I might just sell everything and load off the system.

  10. retired on February 20th, 2019 9:07 am

    the two that killed the clerk will be there soon. can they just bring their own devises?

    I guess internet is next or do they already have it??????????????

  11. lone chief on February 20th, 2019 3:11 am

    This is just stupid! Inmates had to pay for music and player, Ii see no problem with that. Now they are to get “Tablets”. Sorry I just don’t get it.

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