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Some inmates at Washington County's state prisons to get satellite TV

Aim is to reduce gang violence; no taxpayer funds to be used

Aim is to reduce gang violence; no taxpayer funds to be used

July 31, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Inmates housed in three prisons south of Hagerstown can now look forward to television via satellite, which prison officials hope to have installed by the end of November, Jon Galley, assistant commissioner of the Division of Correction's Western Region, said Wednesday.

No taxpayer funds will be used to pay for the satellite television, Galley said.

The satellite service will be available to all inmates who have personal televisions in their cells. It will be paid for with money raised through commissary sales and telephone use in the prisons, Galley said.

Two prisons in Allegany County, Md., have had satellite television for years. In Cumberland, the annual cost is about $10,000, Galley said.

"A lot of folks have their own opinions. When you have to run these places, you have to keep in mind that anything you can do to keep inmates out of a staff member's face is a good thing," Galley said.

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Inmates tend to prefer staying in their cells when they have access to a variety of television stations there, he said.

"It eliminates congregate activity, that's the kind of activity that, with gangs and so forth, present the opportunity for violence," Galley said.

Prison officials expect the satellite service to provide about 13 channels, including NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox, Galley said.

The History Channel, The Learning Channel and ESPN are among the other channels that likely will be available, he said.

Right now, inmates in the prisons south of Hagerstown who use antennas receive three to five local stations, depending on the signal strength.

The satellite television project is in the initial stages of the bid process, Division of Correction spokesman Mark Vernarelli said Wednesday in an e-mail.

"The main issue here is enhanced security: Many inmates will opt to stay in their cells in the evening and watch TV rather than go to rec halls and group settings. This means officers have fewer inmates to observe and fewer large groups; and that contributes to officer safety," Vernarelli wrote.

Inmates may order personal televisions out of specially approved catalogs. The televisions must have clear casings, Galley said.

Galley said he would like the satellite service to be available by Thanksgiving to avoid any problems when broadcast television goes digital in February 2009.

A lot of inmates don't have digital-ready televisions and would have to buy converter boxes, he said.

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