Inmates sue state in digital music dispute

TALLAHASSEE — 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!”

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