Video: HDTV-ready jails irk public

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/29/2009 3:25:53 PM ET 2009-01-29T20:25:53

Inmates at one Massachusetts prison are set to watch the Super Bowl in style this Sunday — thanks to 117 new flat-screen TVs. The cost of the high-tech viewing: $76,958.

The purchase by the Department of Corrections isn't sitting well with some law enforcement officials, but a prison spokeswoman says the money came from an inmate fund, not the taxpayers.

The TVs come at a time when the state is getting ready to lay off workers and cut local aid amid the worst financial meltdown in decades, the Boston Herald reported. Massachusetts is trying to close a $2.5 billion shortfall in this year’s budget, and may face a $4 billion gap in next year's spending plan, according to the newspaper.

"It sends the wrong message when they’re asking sheriff offices throughout the state to cut at least a million out of our budget," Worcester County Sheriff Guy Glodis was quoted as saying. Glodis recently removed televisions from the county jail.

'Nothing to do with the Super Bowl'
Corrections spokeswoman Diane Wiffin said inmate money, commonly called "canteen" funds, paid for the TVs, which were bought ahead of the national transition to digital television,
Wiffin said.

Canteen funds are raised by inmate purchases of toiletries and food, and the proceeds go into a fund benefiting prisoners.

Wiffin also said that contrary to some reports, the purchase of the new TVs "has nothing to do with the Super Bowl."

"Let's get this clear: The bottom line is that this was done for the digital TV conversion on Feb. 17," she said. "This plan was put in place to replace the analog TVs. It's from inmate funds, not from taxpayers' money."

The DOC purchased two kinds of flat screen TVs — a 32-inch LG brand plasma and a 26-inch Sharp LCD. Wiffin said the TVs were "modest."

"No taxpayer funds were used to do this," Wiffin said. "When it comes to money, we are so tight, so frugal in our budget; plus, this started months and months ago."

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