Some €130,000 was spent on providing 870 TVs for the Mulgrave Street jail in the past five years
THE cost of providing TVs in Limerick Prison is the highest in the State based on the annual turnover of televisions per prisoner.
New figures obtained by the Limerick Leader from the Irish Prison Service show that for the seven most populous jails in the country a total of €1,134,213 was spent on purchasing a total of 6,466 TVs over the past five years.
Fianna Fail deputy Willie O’Dea said it is “ridiculous and absurd to be splashing out for comforts for those who have committed crimes against the community” and described the figures for Limerick, in particular, as “even more alarming”.
“They are obviously getting the top-of-the-range, latest state-of-the-art TVs, which most ordinary people can’t afford.
“I’m not opposed to prisoners having TVs, but surely they can do it cheaper than that. They are supposed to be getting punished, so surely the basics would be sufficient. It’s quite extraordinary,” Deputy O’Dea told the Limerick Leader.
A spokesperson for the prison service said “all televisions are purchased competitively following a tendering process”.
The prison service defended its spend, saying TVs help prisoners stay connected with society while serving sentences.
“If that is the case it’s not working. Considering a lot of prisoners reoffend, maybe a bit of disconnection from society for a while might be of benefit,” suggested Deputy O’Dea.
The €1.1m cost of buying TVs does not include subscriptions to Sky Sports, with an additional cost imposed of in the region of €80,000 annually for premier channels for prisoners deemed to be of good behaviour.
In Limerick, the highest spend based on bed capacity was witnessed, with €132,677 spent on 870 TVs for an annual average of 238 prisoners, between both female and male wings.
The €111 spend on TVs in Limerick per prisoner per year was more than double that in Cloverhill and three times that spent in Wheatfield.
The Midlands prison, including Portlaoise, had overall the highest spend in recent years, with 1,779 TVs purchased at a cost €310,541.
But based on its combined bed capacity for 1,161 inmates, this equates to €53 per prisoner annually.
The second highest overall spend in the State was at Mountjoy jail where €232,788 was spent on providing 1,314 TVs for 860 inmates, or the equivalent of €54 per prisoner.
In Cork, €120,577 was spent on 710 TVs for a prison population of 296 or €81.47 per prisoner, every year.
Wheatfield, given its prison population of 550 inmates had the lowest spend of €100,856 for 543 TVs, or the equivalent of €36 per prisoner.
Televisions are provided in all prisoners’ cells, and a spokesperson outlined that as part of the prisoner gratuity policy, a charge of 15 cent is levied on all prisoners to cover the cost of providing in-cell television service.
This charge is decided from an ‘incentivised regimes policy’ which provides for a differentiation of privileges between prisoners according to their level of engagement with services and quality of behaviour.
There are three levels of privilege - basic, standard and enhanced – for a daily gratuity ranging from €0.95 to €2.20.
TVs of 16” and 22” are provided in the cells, with Saorview channels available.
“The larger sized televisions would be used in areas like the control room for monitoring purposes and recreational areas where the smaller screens would be insufficient,” said the spokesperson.
Access to Sky Sports is available only for well-behaved prisoners on ‘enhanced landings’ at prisons through communal TVs in recreation areas.
“Following the introduction of TVs, the incidents of self-harm and suicide dramatically dropped in our prisons,” said a spokesperson for the Prison Service.
“Prisoners serving sentences are very much isolated from society and access to televisions, radios, and newspapers are important to help prisoners keep connected with society and their communities. In addition, they also provide entertainment when locked in their cells. Most prisoners spend, on average, 16 hours per day locked in their cells.”
To qualify for the enhanced level, prisoners must participate actively in structured activities in education, work/training and/or offender programmes with approved services for at least five defined periods a week, unless circumstances outside their control prevent this.
The high level of spending on TVs in Limerick was earlier questioned and highlighted by an anonymous whistleblower within the prison estate, who sent a dossier of complaints containing serious allegations of theft and fraud at Limerick Prison to the Minister for Justice.
It was also sent to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Department of Public Expenditure, a number of other Government departments and deputies to highlight certain employees alleged to have “defrauded the State”.