Addictions amongst prisoners are both common and varied. But one addiction is positively encouraged by staff and prisoners alike. The addiction to television.
Folklore amongst veteran officers has it that, when TVs were first brought in, violence in prison was cut in half overnight. Legend also has it that instances of self-harm doubled too, but if this is true, it is understandable that staff would prefer a prisoner to harm themselves rather than other prisoners or even the officers.
In recent years many myths about television in prisons have been perpetrated by both the media and politicians alike. The tabloids would have you believe that prisoners have High Definition LCD TVs with Sky rigged up and Playstations issued at the taxpayers’ expense, all as standard. None of this is true. From the day I came to prison in 2002 until just last month, the TVs we were being issued with didn’t change at all. They were 14” CRT sets, which the prison service claimed cost £57 each, but which a family member of mine once found that they were able to buy, brand new, for just £32, without even buying in bulk. What’s more, the only prisons which I have ever known to show subscription channels are those in the private sector. No such channels have ever been paid for by the taxpayer. There are indeed some prisons which issue Playstations (1 & 2 only, not 3 or 4) but this remains rare, is only to the best behaved prisoners who are on the highest regime level, and are not bought out of taxation in any case. Most prisons that offer this actually charge prisoners themselves for the loan of both consoles and games.
Similarly, prisoners pay £1 a week for rental of a TV set. In the last thirteen years I have paid more than ten times the value of my TV set in rental alone.
Well, that may not quite be the case any more. A while back, we at Wakefield were all issued with new sets which are far closer to what the media say we’ve always had than I have ever seen before. We now have 18” LCD sets. Still no Sky. Still no Playstation. And, in fact, the signal we get now is actually worse than what we had before and we can’t even tune them properly. But why now?
Staff have told us that this roll out has been a long time coming, but it must have cost a huge amount of money to buy these new sets in. One officer claims that they cost over £100 each. If so, that’s double what the old sets cost, and they were still working perfectly well. Most of the lads here even say they would have preferred to keep the old ones, but we simply weren’t allowed to. I have to wonder, when budgets are as strained as both Governors and Government claim, why would you get rid of over seven hundred working televisions and pay for a more expensive alternative? One suggestion is that the old sets are no longer manufactured, but if that is the case then wouldn’t it make more sense to issue the new sets as and when the old ones break? In thirteen years I have only had one TV stop working on me. If we assume that each set lasts approximately ten years and each new set does indeed cost £100, then at least that spreads the £75,000 investment across a decade!
Consider this though; if the Governor here can afford £75,000 for new TVs, why can’t he afford to issue enough toilet roll? No joke. We are actually rationed for toilet rolls and in the same month that the new TVs were issued, we only received half of our ration. It is no wonder they have come to be known as white gold and I wouldn’t be surprised if the day soon comes that we are left to use leaves! But then, if you listen to the papers, you might well believe that prisoners wipe with real gold leaf!