Life behind bars is too cushy, say some state legislators. Inmates in state prisons enjoy luxuries which some people on the outside can’t afford.
Cable television, conjugal visits and erotic magazines are among the privileges that would be eliminated by a bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Padden, R-Spokane.
“Prison should not be a place where the standard of living … in some respects is better than a lot of our constituents have,” Padden told a meeting of the House Corrections Committee on Wednesday.
He said taxpayers pay for some of these perks, such as wiring prisons for cable TV.
The proposal to end conjugal visits drew the strongest reaction at Wednesday’s public hearing. Relatives of prison inmates pleaded with legislators not to eliminate the visits, which allow wives and children of prisoners to spend the night together in trailers on prison grounds. They said the visits help keep families together.
“Please don’t take these few days we can spend together away,” said 12-yearold Danielle Holder, whose stepfather is in prison.
Her mother, Julia Holder, said the visits help keep families together and give inmates an incentive to behave.
“What could be more appealing than the free and open exchange of love in a family?” she said.
Holder said her husband, Rick Terrovona, has been in prison for 11 years.
An ex-convict who now ministers to prisoners, Clay Anderson, said legislators should remember all the political rhetoric about family values and allow the family visits to continue.
“If we’re willing to talk that family- values talk, then we’d better be ready to walk that family-values walk,” Anderson said. He served time in prison for drugrelated assault and robbery.
Padden said the visits can lead to problems, pointing to recent events where conjugal visits have gone awry, including an incident at Clallam Bay Corrections Center in which an inmate stabbed his wife.
He said daytime visits were acceptable, but overnight stays were a privilege that inmates should not have. “In prison, you give up certain rights, and certain abilities that people have on the outside,” Padden said.
Taxpayers have footed the bill for too many prisoner perks, such as the $100,000 cost to wire the Airway Heights Corrections Center for cable television, he said. The Airway Heights prison also includes a gym, weight room, music rooms and a law library for inmates.
In an interview, Kay Walter, the superintendent of the Airway Heights prison, defended the use of TV in prisons.
Walter said watching TV gives inmates something to do and keeps them out of trouble. Privileges like TV and family visits can be awarded or denied, depending on the behavior of the inmates, she said. And though the state paid to wire the prison for cable, Walter said prisoners pay for their own TVs and for the monthly cable service fees.
Padden’s bill could make prisoners harder to manage, she argued.
“I’m not saying if you take away TVs there is going to be a riot,” Walter said.
But she worried that making prisoners less comfortable could hurt efforts to rehabilitate criminals.
“Do we want to emphasize doing something that will make them less angry when they get out? Or do we want to focus all our energy on being punitive?” she said.
Padden also wants to end inmate access to “obscene, erotic and violent material,” including magazines that inmates are currently allowed to purchase, such as Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler. He said such materials don’t do inmates any good.
“We all know the connection between violent, pornographic material and criminal activity,” Padden said at the hearing.