By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Somewhat short of outrageous

As they are wont to do, the editors of the Boston Herald today offer populist outrage on page one: “BIG SCREENS IN THE BIG HOUSE!” The subhead: “CONS SCORE NEW TVs FOR SUPER BOWL … HOW ‘BOUT YOU?”

Trouble is, the story, by Jessica Van Sack, contains too much truth to sustain the outrage. It turns out that the state Department of Correction spent nearly $77,000 on 117 flat-screen televisions with “canteen money,” which she describes thusly:

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, [DOC spokeswoman Diane] Wiffin said. Purchases of more than $1,000 require approval by top DOC officials.

In other words, the TVs were bought with the prisoners’ own money.

The best use of those funds? Probably not. As Van Sack notes, even Leslie Walker, director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, was perplexed, noting that many prisoners already have their own TVs in their cells.

But the image conjured up by the Herald’s treatment — that of “hard-core killers, rapists and thieves” watching the Super Bowl on high-end TVs bought with your hard-earned tax money — just doesn’t hold up.

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15 Comments

  1. NewsHound

    Dan – I agree wholeheartedly about your observations. I have no idea how much overcharge there is at the prison canteen, but when Martha Stewart went to Federal prison there was a list that indicated a hefty markup – at least it didn’t look like WalMart. Where do these prisoner’s get this money, I wonder.And, they are not all as terrible as described. On the other hand, if someone is in prison for life for murder, what do we care if he or they watch tv at their own expense.The sheriff in Bristol County is rather strict and I had read he charges the prisoners to stay there – not much – but not completely a free ride, either.Didn’t sensational journalism make Hearst wealthy?

  2. io saturnalia!

    Sounds like the prisoners understand two basic things the American public doesn’t: The economy of scale and the advantage of saving and paying cash for luxury items.Any chance these cons and the folks on Wall Street and Detroit can change places?

  3. DanH

    The only surprise to me was that the Herald did not manage to work the word “thug” into the lede.Also missing was the nearly ubiquitous “hero jake,” but that would have been a stretch in this story, even for the Herald.-dan

  4. bostonmediawatch

    They did, however, manage to put a dreadlocked black guy on the “tv screen”. Means the same as thug.

  5. O-FISH-L

    The criticism of Jessica Van Sack’s article is predictably misplaced on this liberal site. Prison, in addition to loss of liberty, also requires a loss of happiness, including a forfeiture of luxuries like flat screen TV’s, regardless of who is paying for it. In recent years in MA, we’ve seen physicians like Dr. Richard Sharpe and Dr. Dirk Greineder convicted of murder. Does their pre-conviction lifestyle and/or their ability to spend funds post conviction, allow them to enjoy luxuries not known by law-abiding citizens of modest means? Outrageous!As many families and bar owners prepare for Sunday’s Superbowl on aging TV’s, Van Sack’s Herald article is another wake-up call for why we need to oust those on Beacon Hill. The piece is also a reminder of why the Herald, despite liberals like Eagan and Ganzelis, continues to exist.

  6. Robin Edgar

    :Sounds like the prisoners understand two basic things the American public doesn’t: The economy of scale and the advantage of saving and paying cash for luxury items.Well presumably at least some of them are very well acquainted with economy of *scale* and paying cash for luxury items when they are not actually stealing them if you catch my drift. . .

  7. ron-newman

    I initially read the headline as being about TVs in the Governor’s mansion, then said “wait, what? Massachusetts doesn’t have a Governor’s Mansion.”

  8. bostonmediawatch

    How predictable is it that when the implied story turns out to be a crock, then the outrage comes from, …well…well…they shouldn’t be allowed to have “luxury” tv’s?Luxury? 50% of US households have a flat screen. How is that a luxury item? OUTRAGE!!!AC-TING!!!

  9. zadig

    I would imagine that those running prisons allow certain luxuries as a practical way to keep the prison population occupied and more sedate. Prison uprisings are cheaply avoided by letting the prisoners buy their own damn TVs.

  10. Brian Flaherty

    Granted they paid for the TVs with their own money but where did they get that money? I assume they got it from working in prison…where does that money come from?

  11. O-FISH-L

    Zadig, prison uprisings are avoided by regularly searching and always keeping an eye on the inmates, not by allowing them to buy flat screen plasmas.

  12. NewsHound

    O-FISH – I like your point of view:”Prison, in addition to loss of liberty, also requires a loss of happiness, including a forfeiture of luxuries like flat screen TV’s, regardless of who is paying for it. “. . . . allow them to enjoy luxuries not known by law-abiding citizens of modest means?”

  13. Neil

    Flatness isn’t “luxury” per se. Even dirt-cheap CRT (old-timey tube) TVs can have flat screens.The 26″ Sharp LCD (flat) they purchased goes for about $440. The 32″ LG goes for about $700. That’s not luxury, it’s simply newness. The only people who would call these “luxury” either haven’t been TV shopping lately, or have some agenda. Wiffin is right–these are pretty modest models.Nobody should buy a new CRT TV, or computer monitor for that matter, because they’re heavy bulky energy hogs, difficult to move, install and dispose of.Whether inmates should be allowed to have TVs at all is a separate question. But once you’ve decided that they can have them then these are pretty standard issue models.

  14. Arthur

    Gee, maybe the Televisions should go to the victoms of the prisoners so they could watch HD TV. This is absurd.

  15. GFS3

    The real problem here is that there are two distinct views about prison. There are the hardcore punishment folks (usually Republicans) who want to return to the days of Dickensian dungeons complete with chains, slimy walls and beds of nails.Then there are the rehabilitation types (mostly liberals) who think prison should be a place for criminals to try and turn their life around through education and work training (as well as counseling).I fall in the latter group. I take a European view of crime — that a big part of it is a societal failure and that we need to remedy those failures to decrease crime. The U.S. view of crime is generally that its an individual failing and it you resort to crime — you deserve punitive punishment.Let them watch the damn TVs. They’re still in prison.

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