Prison Inmates Are a Captive Audience for Gadget Makers

U.S. inmates are increasingly buying gizmos from prison commissaries, including MP3 players and flat-screen television sets, spending about $750 million annually on their gadget habit. As a result, several companies have quietly seized this massive captive audience and have taken niche marketing to an entirely different level. Appliances built for purchase at most prisons do, however, carry one — literally — clear distinction: They are encased in transparent plastic, allowing guards to routinely inspect them for contraband. The catalog of corrections-approved electronics spans big brands such as Sony and Casio, with items like headphones, radios and flat-screen TVs all modified to be “prison safe,” which translates to “see through.” The products are also sealed with “security screws” — screws but with a unique head, making it nearly impossible to remove them with common tools. The prison electronics market will likely become larger in the coming years, as states are allowing prisoners access to more electronics such as electronic tablets. While some people on the outside may frown on giving inmates access to high-tech toys, prison officials say the market is helping incarcerated convicts to better themselves and it gives them something to occupy their time.