The Boston Herald is reporting that, here in my home state of Massachusetts, “The cash-strapped and over-crowded prison system spent a mind-boggling $76,958” on 117 new flat-screen HDTVs. The average cost of each set hovered in at around $649. Only two distinct models were purchased; one a 32-inch LG and the other a 26-inch Sharp.
The Department of Corrections justified the purchases claiming that adding converter boxes to all the TVs would have been more expensive. It should be noted, though, that inmates also have TVs in their cells and converter boxes were purchased for each of those sets.
Now to be fair, the money used to buy the TVs isn’t taxpayer money. It’s “Canteen money” which “is raised by prisoner purchases of items such as toiletries and food, the proceeds of which go into a fund to benefit inmates.” According to the Herald, this account can grow up to $800,000 and any purchase over $1,000 has to be approved by DOC officials.
Still, the big issue seems to be that a converter box costs far less than a brand new 26- or 32-inch flat-panel TV and there are probably better ways to spend almost $80,000. People on both sides of the table seem to be upset:
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.”
And this from Worcester County Sherriff Guy Glodis:
“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.”
And this, from inmate advocate Leslie Walker, director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services:
“What are they thinking?”
And finally this, from me, Doug Aamoth:
“It’s likely that nobody would have paid as much attention to this if the Super Bowl wasn’t this Sunday. They should have bought these TVs three months ago.”