Posh prisons: Hardened criminals curling up in front of the TV

Posh prisons: Hardened criminals curling up in front of the TV »Play Video

Approved list of video games in Oregon prisons


PORTLAND, Ore. – If you’re like a lot of families, you don’t get to watch the likes of "Duck Dynasty", "Keeping up with the Kardashians" or the "Real Housewives".

Times are tough and cable’s expensive, after all.

So how come criminals doing life in prison have access to satellite television in their cells?

KATU’s Anna Canzano visited Columbia River Correctional Facility in Northeast Portland recently and learned inmates have more TV privileges than you might think.

Elizabeth Craig of the Oregon Department of Corrections said the perk is popular; about 53 percent of inmates own a personal TV.

“The majority of the TVs in our institutions are purchased individually by inmates,” Craig said.

Inmates are required to wear headphones when they watch.

They do, however, get a voice in their channel lineup; KATU News acquired a prison memo showing the results of an inmate survey. It notes many requests for HBO, Starz and several sports channels, while indicating male inmates voted out the Trinity Broadcast Network – which is Christian programming – Home and Garden TV, the Biography Channel and The Learning Channel.

Most men at the prisons already have the NFL Network and ESPN’s five-channel package.

The memo also said the men voted in County Music TV, MTV2, The Travel Channel and Chiller – a channel specializing in horror, thriller and suspense.

Chiller is popular on the women’s side, too. Female inmates at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville voted it in, along with Bravo, Lifetime and Oxygen.

Cable, of course, isn’t free.

An internal audit this year highlighted the steady increase in satellite TV as a significant problem. In July 2009, the bill ran $44,000 a month. By October 2012, it was up to $56,000. From 2011 to 2013, the total costs was expected to be about $1.3 million.

And even that is just the beginning. The current contract between the Oregon DOC is for two years and $6 million.

Who’s footing the bill?

The inmates who have individual TVs buy them with money put on the books by family and friends.

The satellite service is paid by calls inmates make through Telmate, the prison system’s telephone system.

Revenue from Telmate goes into the Inmate Welfare Fund, which reached $10 million between 2011 and 2013. That money is split up: About 54 percent goes to alcohol and drug treatment, 22 percent goes to education programs and 24 percent goes to exercise equipment and other recreational facilities, including the TV contract.

Craig said the prisons use the TV privilege as an incentive for good behavior. Inmates can only buy a TV once they’ve gone six months with no misconduct, and officials can strip away privileges.

“Really what we've seen …is that it's actually a really beneficial management tool,” Craig said.