Politics & Policy

It’s Prison, Not a Hotel

(Dreamstime)
Spending on entertainment and cosmetology services for inmates raises questions.

Spending time in prison shouldn’t be so miserable that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, but that doesn’t mean that prisons should be luxurious. An overview of spending by the Federal Bureau of Prisons suggests that excessive taxpayer dollars are being spent just to make prisoners’ lives more enjoyable.

Take a look at this list of questionable prison spending over the past two years:

  • Flat-screen TVs — $119,244.20. That is, $59,068.80 for 120 flat-screen 42-inch LCD televisions, $40,776.30 for 90 wide-screen 42-inch plasma HDTVs, and $19,399.10 for 74 40-inch LED HDTVs.
  • Workout equipment — $49,490.26. Taxpayers funded three treadmills, a commercial rower, and slam balls, perhaps so prisoners could “let out some aggression during [their] cardio work.”
  • Beauty-salon equipment — $30,410.23. Spent on manicure and pedicure stations, reclining shampoo chairs, wig dryers, and massage tables.
  • Magazine subscriptions — $15,820.23. To provide, for prisoner entertainment, magazines including Sports Weekly, Sports Illustrated, American Football, Basketball Digest, ESPN, Hot Rod, NASCAR Illustrated, Fitness Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, People, People Español, Star Magazine, and Esquire.
  • Hair-styling supplies — $25,928.20. For professional straightening irons, hair-coloring supplies, curler sets, and hair-styling chairs.
  • Books — $13,560.00. Including 2,750 fiction books, 2,750 science-fiction books, and 2,750 mystery books.
  • Sports equipment — $9,959.57. For 144 Ping-Pong balls, 30 softball gloves, 30 yoga mats, ten sets of poker cards, and 15 sets of the board game Monopoly.
  • Stair steppers — $12,488.75.So prisoners can stay in shape by providing them with high-end commercial fitness steppers.

Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, tells National Review Online that this type of spending “definitely raises some questions.” He explains, “Our view is that prisons shouldn’t be Holiday Inns, but they also shouldn’t be cruel and inhumane.” One way to maintain balance, he suggests, is to provide less-sophisticated health facilities. “If you’ve got a yard and track,” Levin notes, “there are ways for prisoners to exercise without having a full-scale health club.” He maintains that “the Bureau [of Prisons] needs to be able to explain to the public why this spending is necessary and in the interest of the taxpayers. If they can’t explain that, then we need to question what the real purpose is for the amenity they’re providing.”

— Caroline Craddock is an Agostinelli Fellow and research intern at National Review.

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