Two prison inmates are suing the state of Iowa over a decision they say could result in the loss of $4,600 worth of music they purchased through the prison system.
Steven Ray Wycoff and Kenneth Pladsen, who reside at the state-run Clarinda Correctional Facility, are suing Iowa Prison Industries and its director, Dan Clark, in the Iowa District Court for Polk County.
According to the lawsuit, the two were allowed to purchase an Edge Mini-Tablet device from Iowa Prison Industries for $150. Through a contract the IPI made with a prison housekeeping company called Access/Keefe, inmates then purchased songs that could be added to the tablet’s built-in music player.
Similar to other conventional music service providers, the Access/Keefe contract offered customers lifetime access to the music they purchased, according to the lawsuit.
Wycoff purchased 1,975 songs through the service and Pladsen purchased 445 songs, they claimed. The songs were priced at $1.75 each.
At some point after the purchases, according to the lawsuit, IPI terminated its contractual agreement with Access/Keefe, in which case the inmates were sold SanDisk MP3 players.
Although previously purchased songs can be transferred from Edge mini tablets to SanDisk devices, the plaintiffs claim to have lost their guarantee of lifetime access to their music. They allege that if their SanDisk device is damaged, lost or stolen, they will forever lose the 2,420 songs they purchased at a total cost of over $4,600.
Both claim that the IPI’s policies have created a monopoly that requires inmates to purchase goods and services only from vendors with whom the IPI has a contract. The state, they claim, has “turned the IPI into a monopolistic franchise cornering the market for anything and everything purchased” by prisoners. They claim that the IPI purchases the lesser quality items in order to increase sales through the purchase of replacement items and also overcharges inmates for the products offered for sale.
The plaintiffs seek reimbursement for the money spent on the tablets and songs, as well as a writ that would bar IPI from making further purchases from outside vendors if the intent is simply to resell the items to inmates.
On Friday, Clark and Iowa Department of Corrections officials could not be reached for comment.
Wycoff is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for first degree murder. Pladsen is serving time for second-degree kidnapping.
Iowa Prison Industries is the professional arm of the Iowa Department of Corrections and provides offenders with work-related training. The IPI says it is entirely self-funded and relies on the sale of inmate-made products, such as office furniture, to pay for training.
In 2019, a group of Florida inmates filed a class action lawsuit against the Keefe Commissary Network for allegedly selling inmate songs with the promise that they would still be available to buyers when, in fact, access ended. after the Florida Department of Corrections terminated its contract with the company.
From 2011 to 2017, Florida state inmates purchased approximately 6.7 million digital media files at a cost of approximately $11.3 million, with the state Department of Corrections allegedly collecting $1 .4 million dollars in commissions on these sales. The lawsuit was later dismissed and the dispute was referred to arbitration.
In 2016, a group of federal inmates sued SanDisk Corp. and Advanced Technologies Group, alleging that a contract they had with the Federal Bureau of Prisons resulted in inmates losing access to their music files. They alleged that once released from prison, they could not transfer their purchases to conventional MP3 players and had to purchase a special MP3 player after ATG’s release.
The defendants denied the allegations and successfully argued for the case to be dismissed, stating that the inmates, upon release, only had to pay a $25 fee to unlock access to their music files. “This case is a shakedown of two legitimate businesses,” the two companies told the court.