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Federal BOP to Let Prisoners Have MP3 Players

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has announced that it will allow federal prisoners to purchase MP3 music players, which were first tested at Federal Prison Camp Alderson, a women’s facility in West Virginia. The policy change, expected to be implemented throughout the BOP system in 2012, was hailed as a “positive step” by prisoners’ rights groups.

Various studies have indicated that keeping prisoners occupied with positive leisure-time activities is to everyone’s benefit. David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, stated that providing prisoners with access to music “allows for an important connection [to life on the outside] that assists with their eventual re-entry” to society.

Initial reaction was mixed, however, with Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying it was “difficult to see how all of the necessary safeguards can be put into place to stop prisoners from using MP3 players as bargaining chips or other malicious devices.... It appears to be a risky endeavor and raises a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

Senator Grassley did not provide details as to what could be risky or what questions should be answered. Similarly, the president of the Council of Prison Locals, Dale Deshotel, indicated that unionized prison employees had reservations about the program, though he didn’t specify what those concerns were.

The MP3 players will not be connected to the Internet, but instead will download approved songs through the BOP’s secure computer system, TRU–LINCS, which has filtering software and records all emails and services accessed by prisoners. MP3 players will be sold in prison commissaries and prisoners can load them with songs from a playlist of about one million titles, stated BOP spokeswoman Traci Billingsley.

According to Billingsley, after startup expenses are paid, revenue from the MP3 sales will go to the BOP’s Inmate Trust Fund, which pays for recreational services for prisoners.
“The MP3 program is intended to help inmates deal with issues such as idleness, stress and boredom associated with incarceration,” she said. MP3 players sold to prisoners at FPC Alderson during the testing period cost around $70, plus $.80 to $1.55 per song.

The MP3 devices that will be made available to federal prisoners will be supplied by Advanced Technologies Group, Inc., which has a two-year, $5.15 million contract with the BOP. Certain songs will not be allowed, including those with explicit, obscene or racist lyrics.

MP3 players and music downloads are also available in several state prison systems, such as Michigan, Alaska, Ida-ho, Mississippi, Ohio and Oklahoma, and are provided through Access Corrections, a division of Keefe Group. Prisoners can buy MP3 players from the commissary and then load them with songs through special kiosks.

Sources: USA Today,,

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