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December 26, 2008

Who bears the costs when a prison goes digital?

Especially since I am planning a trip to my local electronics store this afternoon, I could not resist posting this little article I saw thanks to How Appealing.  The report is headlined, "R.I. state prison gears up for the switch to digital on 1,500 TVs," and here is how it starts:

Ask Corrections Director A.T. Wall about the importance of televisions in keeping prisons peaceful and he will paraphrase an old saying: “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.” “An idle inmate can pose a security risk,” Wall says. “We want to keep them occupied, and the opportunity to watch television is one way we do it.”

Which is why the Department of Corrections is spending $175,000 between now and Feb. 17 to rewire the Adult Correctional Institutions and make sure the screens of 1,500 inmate televisions don’t all revert to white static when the nation’s broadcasters switch from analog to digital signals.

And that is only one step. The inmates themselves will have to either come up with $69 for a converter box to use on their existing television or buy a new 13-inch television from the prison commissary for $160 (with the see-through plastic back, of course).

While some prisons around the country have subsidized the cost for inmates to stay connected, Wall said “with the state’s current fiscal climate I’m not willing to use taxpayer money to purchase converter boxes for the inmate population.” Neither is Massachusetts. “No taxpayer funds are being used for inmates’ televisions,” said Diane Wiffin, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.

December 26, 2008 at 09:55 AM | Permalink


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Notably, in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which has 204,000 inmates (+/-), inmates are not permitted to own individual T.V.s, so this should not be a problem. The five T.V.s on each living unit in the B.O.P. all receive cable signals, so they will not incur this cost or have to deal with funding the costs of converting inmate T.V.s. In the B.O.P., the reason for 5 T.V.s on each unit is to keep most everyone happy simultaneously, with a Spanish language channel, B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television), a news channel (C.N.N.), a sports channel (ESPN) and a movie channel (TNT, etc.). Auio is broadcast via radio waves, so each inmate must have a Walkman (or other AM/FM radio) with headphones, to facilitate 5 channels playing simultaneously in the same room. If it wasn't for T.V. and radio, the prions would have to hire (and the taaxpaayer would have to pay for)a lot more guards!

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Dec 26, 2008 11:21:53 AM

Not using taxpayer funds for prison inmates. How original! How politically dangerous... what a risky decision! What will the voters think!

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 27, 2008 9:59:54 AM

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