Shawnee County inmates to get cable TV

TOPEKA | Shawnee County plans to install limited cable television service in its jail and juvenile detention centers, but the inmates — not taxpayers — will pay for it.

The County Commission considered the issue because the federal government is requiring broadcasters to switch to digital signals, starting Feb. 17.

The 43 TVs at the jail and detention center now receive only the old analog signals. Without cable, the new digital signals wouldn’t go through the jails’ steel and thick concrete — meaning no TV.

The estimated cost of adding cable is more than $5,000.

But county commissioners agreed Monday to go ahead with the project after Corrections Director Dick Kline said the money would come from funds inmates pay to their commissary.

Last year, the commissary collected $265,000 from inmates’ purchases. Some of those funds already are used to purchase sports and recreation equipment for inmates’ use.

The commission’s decision allows the Department of Corrections to solicit bids for cable service.

Corrections officials aren’t yet sure exactly what programming will be offered, though they expect it to be limited mostly to local stations. Cable also could be used to deliver specialized educational and religious programs.

Kline said all TV sets are in common areas, not in individual cells.

He noted that about half of the inmates remain in jail before their trials because they can’t raise enough money for bail.

And, he said, for many inmates who have been convicted, “They will be back in the community in a relatively short period of time.”

In addition, Kline said, access to television can be used to manage inmates’ behavior.

“If they start to act bad, that’s the first thing to go,” he said.