$77,000 Spent On HDTV’s For Prisoners

Posted on January 28, 2009


The Bay State’s hard-core killers, rapists and thieves will get to watch this Sunday’s Super Bowl on 117 brand-new high-definition flatscreen TVs purchased with the OK of state prison honchos, the Herald has learned.

The cash-strapped and over-crowded prison system spent a mind-boggling $76,958 for the swanky sets this month even as Gov. Deval Patrick moves to lay off state workers and slash local aid in the face of the worst financial meltdown in a generation.

Paid for with prisoner “canteen” funds, the state-of-the-art TVs are being installed in the common areas of all Department of Correction prisons this month in anticipation of the national digital TV transition, said DOC spokeswoman Diane Wiffin.

Worcester County Sheriff Guy Glodis was baffled by the lavish spending.

“It sends the wrong message when they’re asking sheriff offices throughout the state to cut at least a million out of our budget,” said Glodis, who recently removed TVs from the Worcester County House of Correction. “I would argue there are other things you can spend the money on that are more conducive to rehabilitation.”

The new TVs outraged even inmate advocates.

“What are they thinking?” asked Leslie Walker, director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, noting that many inmates already have TVs in their cells.

Walker said the massive purchase exemplifies the need for greater oversight of the DOC. Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton) has proposed a commission to monitor spending and other DOC matters.

The DOC convened a committee in December 2007 to study the transition from analog to digital TV, Wiffin said. That committee, which included prison officials, decided to purchase new TVs in lieu of digital converter boxes, Wiffin said. A DOC source said converter boxes, which run fom $40 to $80 a piece, were made available to inmates for their in-cell televisions.

The DOC purchased two types of flat-screens – a 32-inch LG brand plasma and a 26-inch Sharp LCD. While the price of each model was unclear, the total cost put the average at $649.

Wiffin, however, called the TVs “modest” and stressed they were not bought on the taxpayers’ dime.

Canteen money is raised by prisoner purchases of items such as toiletries and food, the proceeds of which go into a fund to benefit inmates. At any given time the account can contain up to $800,000, Wiffin said. Purchases of more than $1,000 require approval by top DOC officials.

The state, meanwhile, is struggling to close a whopping $2.5 billion shortfall in this year’s budget – and could face a seismic $4 billion gap in next year’s spending plan.

Said Steve Kenneway, president of the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, “I think you can find a better use for $77,000 than to go out and buy TVs for guys who are used to stealing them.”

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