A Missouri House panel is looking at a proposal to restrict TV viewing in prisons to local over the air channels.

Missouri capitol

Currently, money from canteen sales within correction centers is used to pay for cable or satellite service.  Inmates use their stipend pay, often for work they perform within the prison, to make purchases at the canteen.

House Republican J. Eggelston who sponsored the measure, notes the money for the stipends originates from taxpayers.  He says it would be better used on other inmate programs.

“That money that was going there could be redirected to things that would benefit the prisoners in an educational capacity to help them be not be as apt to recitivize when they get released” said Eggelston.

As an example of ways the money could be redirected, Eggelston points to education, and getting inmates the documents they would need to get a job upon being released, such as social security cards, birth certificates and driver’s licenses.

He thinks it would make sense to use the money on rehabilitation programs.  “Having money go to things like that rather than pay TV, while still giving them TV as an entertainment through over the antenna, that’s the goal of the bill.”

Eggelston says the amount currently spent on cable TV or satellite throughout the Missouri Prison system totals nearly $1 million.

Democrat Bruce Franks Jr. thinks prisoners who work to pay for cable or satellite TV shouldn’t be penalized just because the money originates from taxpayers.

“They can’t come in and mandate how we spend our money that they give us, even inside of the capitol, that they pay us for the work that we do, and it’s the same way (for offenders)” said Franks.

House Republican Galen Higdon agrees that it’s not fair to take away a product inmates pay for through purchases at prison canteens.  “That’s inmates’ money” said Higdon.  “It’s a profit off their commissary.  I don’t see that we can make a profit on those people that we have incarcerated.”

The Department of Corrections is concerned that taking away cable TV or satellite could result in inmates having more free time leading to prison unrest.  The agency contends the change could lead to a significant increase in assaults and affect the safety of both inmates and staff.

The department says television lets inmates stay abreast of current events in preparation for reentry into society, and states that removing satellite or cable will not result in any cost avoidance for taxpayers.  A analysis by a legislative research office shows the proposal would have no impact on state or local governments.

The House committee debated the proposal Thursday among themselves with no individuals or groups testifying for or against it.  It’s not known when the committee will vote on the measure, which is known as HB 163.