A federal lawsuit is accusing the Florida Department of Corrections of unlawfully separating Florida inmates from their rightful property, namely, digital media they’d purchased in prison.
The class action filed in the Northern District of Florida on Tuesday charges the FDOC and its newly appointed secretary, Mark Inch, with violating Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment assurances of compensation and due process by confiscating music and books that Florida prisoners had bought.
FDOC Press Secretary Patrick Manderfield said “the department has not been served this lawsuit,” but would “thoroughly review it upon receipt.”
Dante Trevisani, the executive director of Miami public interest law firm the Florida Justice Institute, said the new policy is a result of the FDOC’s partnership with a new vendor, Miramar-based JPay, for the state prison system’s digital music player program.
“If the music could transfer, it would negate the new vendor’s ability to make money. This was the explicit reason it was done,” Trevisani said.
The complaint claims advertisements touting the digital media players promised inmates: “Once music is purchased, you’ll always own it!” Now, prisoners are being compelled to hand in their old devices in exchange for new Jpay-branded ones without any of the media they’d purchased. What’s more, the suit claims the FDOC has declined to offer compensation for the seizure of materials prisoners had thought they owned outright. Now, if they want access to the music or books they’d previously enjoyed, they’ll have to buy them a second time.
Joshua Glickman, a former attorney with the Florida Justice Institute and founding member of the Social Justice Law Collective, is one of the lawyers representing the class outlined in the suit. He referred to the FDOC’s actions as “completely unacceptable.”
“For a lot of these prisoners this music program was a huge thing for them,” Glickman said. “These were not just songs, this was a way for these prisoners who had life sentences or 25 years or more … to have a little slice of normalcy. And to just have it ripped away from them is completely unacceptable.”
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Glickman said both he and Trevisani’s firms “started receiving a deluge of letters from inmates and their family members complaining about the loss of their property.”
“Once we started looking into it … we were somewhat surprised at not only that they were confiscating these inmate’s lawfully purchased properties, but the reasoning that they were giving these inmates,” Glickman said, calling the FDOC’s justification for the policy “callous” and “indifferent.”
Trevisani said the FDOC ignored prisoner’s grievances before developing a standard response which said the ability for inmates to keep their media would “negate the vendor’s ability to make money.” He summarized the prison system’s sentiment as “We’re sorry you feel this way, but we hope you’ll come to acknowledge the value of this program.”
The named plaintiff in the case, William Demler, is an inmate at the South Florida Reception Center in Doral. He had purchased more than 300 songs on his old media player and expressed his concerns about the new policy with both the prison as well as the attorneys. Trevisani said the legal team hopes “to get a class certified of everyone who lost out on” media they’d owned prior to the new policy’s implementation.
“The class as we defined it is all FDOC prisoners whose music was taken pursuant to this transition from the old media players to the new tablets,” he said. Through litigation, Trevisani and his co-counsel are hoping to get Demler and class members “access to the old music by transferring it to the new player or some other means.”
“For some people, this is all they have,” Trevisani added. “There was advertising to induce them to buy the music. It said you’d own it forever, and people believed that.”