herald

Thursday 14 November 2019

Taxpayers pick up sky-high bill for felons to watch top football

Prisoners already have Xboxes (stock image)
Prisoners already have Xboxes (stock image)

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has spent more than €325,000 providing inmates with access to Sky Sports and other premium channels during the past four years, figures have revealed.

A total of €6,730 a month was paid to multi-channel providers last year alone so prisoners could enjoy some of the most expensive digital TV packages while they serve time behind bars.

All inmates have access to free-to-air channels on televisions in their cells, and can upgrade to digital packages by having a small sum deducted from their daily pocket money.

Prisoners can also access premium channels such as Sky Sports in the recreational areas of enhanced landings - common areas equipped with large screens.

A deduction of 15 cent for in-cell TV services is automatically taken from the daily gratuity payment that inmates receive.

While inmates, who also have access to games consoles, can use their pocket money to pay the small daily fee for TV services, prison governors are entitled to withdraw these privileges for disciplinary reasons.

Fianna Fail councillor and former TD Colm Keaveney said the spend was "appalling", and the funds should instead be diverted to pay for frontline healthcare staff and to deal with hospital waiting lists and overcrowding.

"This is an appalling amount of public money to spend in providing such a privilege that many hard-working families in the community sacrifice in order to pay their food or back-to-school bills," he said.

"Week after week, we encounter the claim from our health service managers that they can't afford to pay for the extra staff needed to keep our hospital wards open.

"The cost of TV for prisoners would pay 10 full-time nurses in my local hospital."

Suicide

The IPS has defended its expenditure on premium TV services, saying self-harm and suicide have been dramatically reduced since the introduction of TVs.

"Prisoners serving sentences are very much isolated from society, and access to tele- visions, radios and newspapers are important to help keep prisoners connected with society and their communities," an IPS spokesman said.

"Following the introduction of TVs, incidents of self-harm and suicide dramatically dropped."

All prisoners receive pocket money of up to €2.20 per day, which can be used to buy non-essential goods such as cigarettes, sweets and computer games.

"It can also be used to pay the small fees for access to digital TV subscriptions.

More than €2.8m was paid to inmates in pocket money last year, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Prisoners can also earn an additional €3.50 a week by mucking in with chores such as cooking and laundry.

A total of €80,760 was spent by the IPS on multi-channel services last year, representing a small reduction from the €83,357 it paid for the same services in 2017.

The expenditure on chann-el subscriptions in 2016 and 2015 was €82,144 and €80,356 respectively, bringing the total over the four-year period to €326,617.

The IPS said it was not poss-ible to provide a breakdown of payments for individual channel packages, but confirmed that Sky Sports is among the most popular premium channels made available.

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