PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Responding to the public outcry, County Executive Dan Onorato stopped the purchase of top of the line Sony Bravia high definition flat screen TVs for the jail, but not everyone is applauding.
“I’m very disappointed in him reacting suddenly to this,” Marion Damick said.
She is on an inmate advocacy committee which recommended the purchase of the televisions to replace failing and broken down ones in the jail.
Andy Sheehan: “Inmates are getting TVs that people at home can’t afford. Top of the line.”
Damick: “They’re getting top of the line because if you don’t pay, you get what you pay for. If you pay less, then they keep falling apart like they are now and you have to get new ones. That’s not cost effective.”
“Question is, ‘Do you need a top of the line TV?’ No,” Onorato said.
But in cancelling the TV order, Onorato goes further, questioning the other uses of the $2 million inmate welfare fund — money which comes from inmate commissary sales for the “welfare” of the inmates.
“I would argue this money should be allowed to be freed up for just general operation of the jail which we need,” he said. “Why should the taxpayers pay for it?”
Onorato says he will attempt to persuade the jail oversight board to redirect the funds to pay for operations.
“The guards, the beds – whatever it takes for us to supply the needs of an inmate – even the basic needs – should be the general welfare of the inmate,” he added.
Damick says she’ll fight that kind of use of the fund.
“The county runs the county jail. It is legally responsible for the bricks, the mortar,” she said.
The purchase of the top of the line TVs appears to be dead, but it has given life to a whole new debate over whether inmates ought to help pay for their own incarceration.