Preparing to Fail: Federal Bureau of Prisons Sells Mailing Envelope for When MP3 Players Break

Preparing to Fail: Federal Bureau of Prisons Sells Mailing Envelope for When MP3 Players Break

The other week I prepared to shop in the FCI Petersburg’s institutional commissary. New commissary forms had just been printed, this one with “Feburary” printed on it.  I was looking to see if there was anything new available for sale.  After all, some items change each quarter, when they issue the new commissary forms.  Well, I wasn’t to be disappointed.

As I scrolled down the commissary list, I came across an entry called an “MP3 Envelope.”  Seeing this I assumed that they were finally selling a soft, clear, rubberized carrying case for the $69 SanDisk MP3 player which they’ve been selling for some time.  This clear case — with a neck strap, no less — is sold at other prisons for around $1, or even given away with the MP3 player purchases.

Later in the day, while at the commissary window retrieving my purchases, a small yellow envelope was passed through the slot.  The inside of this envelope contained bubble wrap.  On the outside, there was a label for the Advanced Technologies Group — the contractor who installs the software on the MP3 players sold by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  I was sadly disappointed but didn’t hand back the envelope because I wanted to share this with my friends so that we could all remark on the principle behind selling this padded, labeled, envelope; an envelope designed for use upon product failure, an apparently expected outcome.

See, since the start of selling these Advanced Technologies Group/SanDisk MP3 players there have been problems.  MP3 players will freeze and simply stop working.  Others will stop turning on.  And still, others will malfunction, and when plugged into a TRULINCS computer to purchase new music, they will shut the computer down.  Those are the total system failure problems.  On the lighter side, some MP3 players turn on and off on their own, randomly change songs, pause, or change over to the radio function, or any other number of odd operations.  We’ve become used to such errors now that we’ve been able to use these MP3 players for perhaps 18 months now.

Along with the manufacturer, errors have also come headaches from the FCI Petersburg prison administration concerning obtaining replacement MP3 players.  At different points in time, they have offered replacement MP3 players when a manufacturer defect or system error has been proven within 30, 60, or 90 days.  At some points in time, they have refused to offer replacements at all, but to allow prisoners to mail the defective MP3 players to the Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) to be fixed, but wouldn’t then allow them back into the institution.  Instead, the MP3 players would have to be mailed to the inmate’s family, where they could hold it until the prisoner’s release.  Of course, this could be years, if not decades away.  Now, it appears as if FCI Petersburg’s administration has done away with replacement MP3 players for defective products, but allows prisoners to mail their defective MP3 players to ATG to be fixed and in a departure, now allows them back into the prison.  Hard to say what the case is.  Also, hard to say how long the current protocol will remain, as it changes seemingly monthly, quarterly at a minimum.

The purpose of this post isn’t to comment on FCI Petersburg’s abject failure in handling the defective MP3 players they continue to sell to federal prison inmates in their institutional commissary.  Although, that’s one heck of a statement in itself.  The purpose is to share how the Federal Bureau of Prisons has resigned itself to selling a defective product and how federal prison inmates need to send the defective product back to the manufacturer — Advanced Technologies Group — to be fixed.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons would rather sell 85-cent protective envelopes to mail the defective products to be fixed than enforce quality assurance clauses of their contract with the Advanced Technologies Group.  Seems a bit more than a little crazy.

While the Prison Law Blog is not in the business of selling or contracting for the sales of MP3 players to federal prisoners, we do have a deep breadth of contract law expertise, and even a bit of experience with product liability law, not to mention the law surrounding corrections.  And if a defective product is actively and willingly being sold through a monopolistic federal prison commissary, then it certainly rises to the level of a tort.  While we’re not going to be the ones to spend the time required to litigate this issue (we have enough litigation on our plate for the moment)*1, we’ll certainly provide support to any third party who wants to pursue this further. *2 Until then, I’ll save my receipt for an 85-cent “ATG Envelope.”  I’ll gladly become a party to the action when the time comes.

*1-At this moment the Prison Law Blog is handling dental, medical, disciplinary, and transgender litigation — not to mention several habeas corpus proceedings — in various state and federal courts.

*2-This support can consist of virtually anything outside of direct litigation.