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Jail TVs seen as way to save county money
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TVs for inmates at Warren County Jail have actually saved taxpayers money, according to County Executive John Pelham.
“The simplicity of it is we have saved a tremendous amount of money at the jail,” said Pelham. “We were having stuff torn up all the time. In a perfect world, they would tear nothing up at the jail. I would love that. But, they do. We are figuring out a way to save taxpayers money by spending less money on maintenance and replacing things that were being torn up.”
Pelham said it was common for inmates to tear sprinkler heads off inside cells, kick out or bust out lights, tear up commodes, stuff items down commodes and cause them to overflow, tear sinks off walls and rip metal off pipes.
“When a sprinkler head is torn off, it floods the cell. Greg (Bowdoin, county maintenance supervisor) is out there all the time fixing something. If a sprinkler head is torn off and flooded in the middle of the night, Greg has to get out there and get it fixed,” said Pelham.
“County Commissioners on the Jail Oversight Committee and I visited and talked to other jails who use TVs as a way of motivating inmates to do better. We visited a neighboring county which has TVs and uses them in that way. It has been very successful for them. We visited jails similar in size to ours and some much larger who have TVs. They all said the same thing. It has helped motivate the inmates to not tear things up. We researched it before we tried it. Sheriff Jackie Matheny is excellent to work with and he is letting us try this. Ultimately, it is his call. If he thinks this is beneficial, we will continue to do it,” said Pelham.
“I realize what some people may think. They think we are trying to make the inmates’ life easier. It is not about that. Yes, there are some good people in jail who made a mistake. Still, they are in jail. If they did something bad, they deserve to be in jail. But, if they do something bad while in jail and we cannot take anything away, what are we going to do? Put them in jail? Most have no money to pay for damages they cause. And, most don’t care if we could extend their sentence for doing those things. The TVs motivate them to be better. I do believe this has helped,” said Pelham.
Jail director Eddie Knowles said, “The TVs have helped and slowed down some of the tearing up of things. You have to realize some of the inmates don’t have as much at home as they have here. They don’t take care of things where they live. Many don’t care. It costs money to take them to court for tearing things up. We are just trying to keep taxpayer money down.”
Knowles said the inmates are in their cells 22 hours per day. They are allowed two hours of recreation time, one hour in the morning and one at night, to walk around freely in their pod. While in the cells, the inmates must watch TV through the bars of their cells and the TVs are several feet away. During the two hours of rec time, the inmates may gather closer to the TVs but are not allowed to touch them.
There are currently eight TVs placed in the jail for inmates to watch, four in the men’s pods, three in the women’s pods, and one in an in-house trustee cell. One of the men’s pods lost TV privileges when a fight broke out in the pod and the TV has been removed from that area.
The TVs being used in the incentive program were donated from a business in Warren County when they remodeled and no longer wanted them.
Pelham had discussed the possibility of replacing the existing TVs with larger, flat-screen TVs which could be seen more easily from the distance of the cells if the incentive program is a success. Replacing the TV sets would cost approximately $2,400 according to Pelham’s guestimate of being able to purchase eight sets for $300 each.