MP3 Players in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy tigerdirect.com

Federal prison inmates are now allowed to utilize a MP3 player service.  This service, operated through all Federal Bureau of Prisons' institutional commissaries and the use of the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System (TRULINCS), allows inmates to purchase 8 gigabyte MP3 players for $69 and individual songs for between $0.85 and $1.55 each.

This article explain the various components of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' MP3 player service, how inmates utilize the system, and the various components involved.

Purchasing the MP3 Player

While local policies vary, inmates in the Federal Bureau of Prisons are allowed to shop at the prison's commissary several times a month (most federal prisons allow inmates to shop either once every week or biweekly).  They are allowed to spend $320 per month on foods, drinks, clothing, snacks, candies, shoes, and electronics.  Certain items, such as over-the-counter medications, postage stamps, and copy cards are exempt from this spending limit.

While federal prison inmates have been allowed to purchase walkman-style FM radios for many decades, they are now allowed to purchase 8 gigabyte SanDisk MP3 players for $69.  These players hold around 2,100 songs, which can be purchased through the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System (TRULINCS).  They also have FM radio functionality.

Once an inmate purchases an MP3 player, they have to wait one hour, then they can connect the device to a TRULINCS computer in their housing unit and activate it.  At that point, they can browse the library of songs available for purchase and make purchases.

Browsing and Purchasing Songs

Federal inmates who own an MP3 player are allowed to browse the TRULINCS music library for up to 60 minutes a day, in 15 minute intervals.  Search criteria include artist's name, album name, song name, and genre.  There are also folios for new music (music which has recently been uploaded to the system), most popular music for each category, and a suggestions folio (which contains suggestions for inmates based on the songs that they've searched for previously).  Each day, an inmate is allowed to preview up to 30 music samples, each one lasting 30 seconds in duration.

Once an inmate locates a song that like, they have two options: add it to their wish list or add it to their shopping cart.  If the song in question is added to their wish list, it will remain in a special folio.  Up to 30 songs can be added to the wish list.  From there -- or directly from the music browsing screen -- inmates can add songs to their shopping cart to purchase.  Up to 15 songs can be purchased in a single day.  In order to purchase a song, the inmate first adds the song to their cart, then types in a special nine-digit security code.  The song is then purchased.  If the song is available, it is downloaded immediately.  If not, it will be available for download the following day when the inmate first logins to the music service.

TRU Units

In order for inmates to purchase MP3 songs, they must have money on their account.  While every federal prison inmate has a trust fund account, they must purchase TRU Units through any TRULINCS computer.  TRU Units cost 5 cents each, can be purchased in denominations of 40, 100, 200, 300, and 600 units at a time.  These purchases are automatically deducted from the inmate's trust fund account balance.  Once these TRU Units are purchased, they can be used to buy music, utilize the monitored email service (called the "Public Messaging" folio), or print documents in the institution's law library.  At no time are taxpayer funds used to buy inmates music, email credits, or printing credits.  In fact, profits from the use of the email and MP3 player services cover all expenses associated with their operation (e.g., computer hardware, etc.).

Security Features

The MP3 player itself comes with several security features to deter theft and tampering.  Each MP3 player must be "revalidated" every 14 days in order for the device to remain operational.  Inmates can revalidate their MP3 players by logging onto a TRULINCS computer (which requires their eight-digit inmate number, nine-digit passcode, and thumbprint), and either purchasing a song or clicking on the "Revalidate" icon.

The SanDisk MP3 player also comes equipped with a voice recorder.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons has this feature disabled on all devices sold within their prison commissaries.

The Wave of the Future

Ten years ago the thought inside federal prison -- and state prisons, for that matter -- was that the walkman-style personal FM/AM radios were the only meaningful mode of personal entertainment that was ever going to be allowed.  Then came the TRULINCS system, which allowed for monitored email services.  Now the Federal Bureau of Prisons has implemented their MP3 player service.  With the exception of the FM radio, all of this came as a surprise to most.  Now there is talk about personal secured tablets and video visitation.

While the future of technology inside federal prison is uncertain, there is a cautious hope for greater things to come.  There is a hope for an existence more like that of normal society, albeit one with buzzing security gates and periodic inmate counts.  While uncertainty still remains the order of the day, there is hope, too.  And this is something everyone in prison can grasp to.