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While reading about startup companies the other day, I came across this great article about a company producing music players for prison inmates. The United States has a massive prison system, holding approximately 2.3 million people. This quite literal ‘captive audience’ gives product makers and content creators an exciting opportunity, along with unique challenges.

One of the key challenges for product makers is creating products that match prison specifications for what inmates are allowed to have. They can’t own anything that can be used to make a weapon, communicate freely with the outside world, or conceal contraband. However, companies like JPay and Keefe Group are beginning to create music players and even mini tablets that match these specifications.

This new technology gives content creators interesting new platforms to reach an entirely new set of customers. Prison inmates are long on time and short on activities, so reading material can be considerably longer and still hold their attention. In addition, prisoners have specific needs that can be met by software that is compatible with the new media devices. Here are some simple ideas that could be pursued:

Reading Apps. Much like ITunes for music, someone who created a purchase app for books on the prison-safe media devices could make a killing. Inmates read far more than the general population due to the amount of free time they have available.

Learning Programs. Education in prison is always in need of assistance, and a company who produced electronic learning materials that would be accessible to inmates would be able to beat traditional textbooks on price and convenience. Inmates often use their time to pursue either their high school diploma or advanced degrees, so all levels and types of educational programs would be in high demand.

Games. People spend hours and hours on game-play, and not only does this give entertainment, it can actually help develop self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment. In Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal argues that games are not a time-waster but in fact fulfill basic human needs of interaction, purpose, and achievement. Bringing that fulfillment into a prison situation could make a big difference in the lives of those incarcerated, and may be able to reduce violence inside the prison.

All three of these ideas are simple things already available to the outside world. However, thinking about bringing them into a prison situation not only changes the scenario but brings in a whole new audience. Companies who position themselves to be the creators of this content stand to make steady profits as our inmate population grows.  


What content creation ideas do you have for a prison environment? Share in the comments!


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