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New York Jail Profits from TV Ads

How does a small business like Chico’s Bail Bonds increase its odds of reaching its target demographic? By advertising to people who have just been arrested and jailed, of course.

While being booked and photographed within hours of their arrest, prisoners at the Erie County Holding Center in Buffalo, New York are now exposed to TV commercials from defense attorneys and bail bondsmen thanks to Metrodata Services, a company that sells the ads for about $40 a week.

“What do people want when they’re in the Holding Center? They want to get out. And they don’t want to get convicted. So they want bail. And an attorney,” Metrodata director Anthony N. Diina told the Buffalo News. “This is the ultimate captive audience.”

Erie County will get about a third of the profits from such “captive ads,” which will also be aired on a TV in the lobby where families wait to visit detainees. Diina estimates the county’s share will be $8,000 to $15,000 a year, which is slated for the general fund.

Nor is Erie County alone; as previously reported in PLN, a jail in Florida is generating revenue by running ads on video visitation screens while families wait to connect with prisoners. [See: PLN, Jan. 2010, p.22].

But according to criminal defense attorney James Auricchio, the county and Metrodata have gone too far to make a buck.

“I wouldn’t [buy captive advertising] even if I was subsisting on Ramen noodles,” said Auricchio, a former prosecutor. “It’s just poor taste in my mind. It strikes me as inserting a commercial aspect into something when I don’t feel there is any place for it.”

The idea for captive ads at the Holding Center was purportedly hatched during a “culture change” meeting of county employees, including Diina’s nephew, who happens to work in Erie County’s Jail Management Division.

Now that the ads are turning a profit, Rev. Eugene L. Pierce, vice chairman of Erie County’s Community Corrections Advisory Board, wants the county’s share of the revenue to be used for “betterment programs” for prisoners rather than reverting to the general fund.

“Inmates should not be used to generate funds for the county’s jail operations,” said Pierce, who added that the booking-area TVs could also advertise the Board’s contact information so prisoners can file complaints about mistreatment.


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