Axon Inc., a six billion-dollar company known for arming police with body cameras and dart-fired electrocution weaponry known as “Tasers,” claims to be making “rapid growth” in the markets of the prison industrial-complex, and is “unlocking” markets internationally. 

During a 2020 quarter-one earnings call, Axon’s Chief Revenue Officer Joshua Isner explained that a third of the way into 2019, Axon “ramped up” its efforts “specifically focusing on corrections.” 

“And this year we have an independent sales team focused on that market…I’m really excited about the work that they’re doing so far.”  

In May, Axon updated shareholders on these developments: 

“Axon is now engaged with more than 10 state departments of corrections, including the five most populous states in the country — California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania — which are either purchasing our products, undergoing trials at scale, or seeking to have budget discussions and command demonstrations of TASER devices. In the US, there are about 450,000 correctional officers and about 92,000 probation and parole officers and we estimate that TASER device and Axon body camera penetration among them is minimal.”

COVID-19 is apparently accelerating Axon’s marketing push in the prison setting, explained Isner, since the weapons theoretically minimize skin-to-skin contact. He said, “we’re seeing more investment on a faster cadence than in the past, particularly in the CEW [Conducted Energy Weapons] segment to keep officers from having to go hands-on and protect them from a potential risk of infection.”

In recent years, Axon expanded its markets by selling Tasers to police in the United Kingdom, Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, India, France, and Australia. Accordingly, outrage stemming from Taser use is expanding around the world. Earlier this month, for example, the police murder of an attorney with a stun gun sparked ongoing civil unrest in Bogota, Columbia. (It is unclear whether Axon sold the weapon to Colombian police.) 

“We are just getting started in large markets such as Brazil and India,” Axon’s President Luke Larson said in a quarter-two earnings call, “and three countries top $1 million in revenue for the first time in the quarter; Indonesia, Panama, and Thailand.”

Axon’s latest model, ‘Taser 7’ is branded with doublespeak as “the most effective TASER weapon ever,” allowing the user to “de-escalate with confidence,” while showing “commitment to your communities.” 

The weapons aren’t cheap: Taser 7 subscriptions cost taxpayers anywhere from $9.75 to $60 per officer per month depending on the plan. A city of 200,000, employing around 4,800 sworn police officers, could spend half a million to 3.4 million dollars annually on Tasers.   

For years, U.S. prison officials hesitated to arm prison guards with Tasers because of potential liability risk, former Axon salesperson Paul Hughes told Reuters. Don Stanton, a retired corrections officer in Winter Garden with an incarcerated son, told the Orlando Sentinel that Tasers should not be brought into state prisons. “He worried they might use it on pregnant women or when people are wet, especially in the summer months when prison temperature [sic] soar and prisoners are sweating,” the Sentinel wrote.   

Recently, on September 14, people incarcerated at Chippewa Correctional Facility in Michigan rose up and took control of their unit after a prison guard tased an incarcerated person until he was unconscious. 

Reuters tracked 1,081 deaths involving Tasers from the early 2000s until February 2019, including 110 behind bars—predominantly in local jails. In a majority of cases, incarcerated people were already handcuffed or immobilized when they were electrocuted to death. 

Axon’s push appears to be most imminently successful in Florida. This year, on May 29, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) announced a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend its use of force policy to include the use of Dart-fired Electronic Immobilization Devices as “an intermediate level of force alternative” to “officers supervising inmates within the general population setting.” 

Andrew, an individual incarcerated in Florida who asked Shadowproof to withhold his real name for fear of retaliation, said that the proposed rule is “a riot waiting to happen.” 

He said officers are not equipped with Tasers in his medium-security prison and that he hasn’t yet seen anyone tased. However, he’s heard rumors recently that the proposal will pass.

“[Guards] claim next month they’ll have them and are already anticipating the misuse of them with a smile on their face,” Andrew said, “The use of pepper spray, mace, is already through-the-roof and completely abusive.”  

This rule, which as of October 5 hasn’t yet passed, follows an 18-month pilot program at Columbia Correctional Institution which, according to FDC, reduced violence. However, since the prison system is shrouded in secrecy, there isn’t a way to fact-check those results.  

“Tasers will not reduce violence but it will cause two things,” Andrew told Shadowproof.  “One: fear amongst the inmate population or two: retaliation from those that refuse to be mistreated in that manner because we all know that these officers are mostly predisposed and have bigotry, racism, and their own biased opinions of convicts. So, the abuse will be rampant.” 

Swift Justice, a man who is incarcerated in Alabama, described the theory as “absurd,” since Tasers are “not tools of deterrent or prevention.” He posited: “If it was a logical solution then violence would decrease when another inmate presented a knife, right? But it doesn’t…Like the knife it escalates the violence. A Taser will do the same.” 

“Never forget Tasers are considered less-lethal, not non-lethal. It becomes another means for the slave-catcher to inflict the power, and sadistic ways then claim they were only doing their job, under the color of law.”

Swift maintained that only “true rehabilitation” will reduce violence, which he said starts with paying incarcerated people for their labor and giving them “good time” to be released early.  

“Remove the slave aspect and give back their humanity.”

Ella Fassler

Ella Fassler

Ella Fassler is an independent writer and researcher based in Rhode Island. Her work has been featured in The Nation, The Appeal, Slate, OneZero, Truthout and elsewhere.