Entertainment in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

Entertainment in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons provides inmates with a number of avenues of entertainment.  These avenues include personal FM radios, community televisions, personal MP3 players, and institutional movies.  These forms of entertainment are offered in an effort to reduce inmate idleness and the ills that come along with it.


Personal FM/AM radios have been a mainstay of prison culture for decades.  Available for purchase through institutional commissaries at a price of around $40, most inmates purchase one.  These radios are of the Walkman variety, operate on two or three batteries, and are required to listen to the televisions in the inmate housing units.


Inmates incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons are not permitted to purchase personal televisions; instead, they are allowed to utilize communal TVs in inmate housing units and, at some federal prisons, in recreation departments.  Most of these televisions are usually mounted high up on support beams so that they cannot easily be tampered with, and programming can either be determined by a majority vote or by the prison’s administration.  The external speakers are removed from these TVs, and FM modulators are connected to them.  Thus, inmates must purchase personal radios and tune these radios into specific FM frequencies in order to hear programming.  There are usually several such communal televisions in each housing unit, and each one is set to a specific type of programming (e.g., movies, news, sports, Spanish stations, etc.).

Some federal prisons also have TV rooms in the housing units.  The rooms house televisions that still have their external speakers so that inmates who lack personal funds can still watch programming.  There are usually one to two TV rooms in each inmate housing unit.  Programming is also decided either by a majority vote or by the prison’s administration.  Unlike the common area televisions, there is no expectation that these televisions will be on any specific type of programming.

MP3 Players

A new advent in the Federal Bureau of Prisons concerns personal MP3 players.  Through a contract with the Advanced Technologies Group, federal prison commissaries now sell $69 8 gigabyte SanDisk MP3 players.  Inmates can purchase these electronic devices in their prison’s commissary, and after connecting the device to a Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System (TRULINCS) computer and activating it, can purchase individual songs from a periodically updated music library of several million songs.  These MP3 players can hold around 2,100 songs, each of which costs between $0.85 and $1.55 per song.  While it is a benefit to be able to select the music that one listens to, they also come with rechargeable internal batteries.  Thus, inmates no longer have to purchase batteries at $2.20 per package of four.

Weekend Movies

All federal prisons play movies over an institutional movie channel on the weekends.  These are commercially-released movies, usually played at set times on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  The inmate population has the option of making movie requests as long as the movies are not rated R, which is prohibited by the Federal Bureau of Prisons policy.  Many inmates at each federal prison watch these movies as they are usually Hollywood films of general interest.

Why Recreation in Federal Prison is Important

While the American public might find the idea of building in ways to entertain inmates to be distasteful, prison administrators understand the reality of the matter: an occupied inmate is a well-managed inmate.  Prison culture is caustic, dangerous, and violent.  Only so much strife, punishment, and cruelty can be inflicted on a prisoner before they respond in kind.  Through the use of personal FM/AM radios, MP3 players, and community TVs and movies, inmate populations can be occupied, and points of stress and strife can be tempered.  It’s a win for the prison administrators (who have a less explosive inmate population) and a win for prisoners (who have something to occupy their time and make it just a tad less onerous).