When is buying a jailhouse plasma TV not, to use Gov. Pawlenty’s term, a “bonehead decision“? When it’s in the warden’s conference room, apparently.
This week brought the revelation in the Star Tribune that sex offenders at Moose Lake were watching two dozen new 50-inch flat-screen televisions—and within hours, an announcement by Pawlenty that the $1,570 TVs would be removed from the facility’s common areas and sold off.
But it wasn’t the first time the Star Tribune shone a light on state Corrections Department spending for television equipment.
In July, the newspaper reported on a $60,000 remodeling of a conference room at the juvenile detention facility in Red Wing that included $4,300 for a single, 58-inch plasma-screen TV and had legislators “fuming.”
One was DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler, who said “the White House situation room pales in comparison” to Red Wing’s upgrades. He called the expenditure “jarring” in view of budget constraints on other areas of state government.
Questions about the conference-room spending came from both sides of the aisle, but a Republican legislator didn’t return a message from the Minnesota Independent. Staff at Red Wing referred questions to a state Corrections Departement spokesperson, who also didn’t respond to messages.
So what was the Pawlenty administration’s response to the outrage at the last plasma-TV spending scandal in the Star Tribune?
“So far as I know, nothing,” Winkler tells MnIndy. “After all, the phrase ‘sex offenders’ didn’t appear in the story, so the governor’s not embarrassed enough to take action.”
Meanwhile, the governor’s quick nixing of the Moose Lake TVs has drawn criticism. Lyon County jail administrator Brad Marks says flat-screen TVs are cheaper for jails than console models, according to the Marshall Independent. The newspaper editorializes that
for Pawlenty to order the televisions removed and sold, if possible, is silly. The money has been spent, the state will now lose money on the purchase and now, it looks as if the response was more knee jerk than to spark responsible discussion about televisions and other features in our jails and prisons and about civil commitment prisons and sex offender treatment.
And Minnesota Public Radio reports that examining larger issues around such treatment is also what psychiatrist Michael Farnsworth, former Medical Director for the state Department of Human Services, is calling for in the wake of the TV hubbub.