`Luxuries' for Prisoners Questioned
Michael Ferry Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Q: Do prisoners have a constitutional right to color TV and other luxuries? If so, where in the Constitution does it say that? I think it's outrageous that prisoners should be given such things.
A: No, prisoners do not have a constitutional right to color TV or to "luxuries," however you might define that term.
The Constitution sets minimum standards for the conditions in which prison inmates are to live. The most basic standard, under the Eighth Amendment, provides that punishment cannot be "cruel and unusual."
By and large, prison conditions are determined by the professional correctional staff who administer and operate prisons, within whatever funding limits they are given.
Over the years, public debate has waxed and waned over how prisons should treat inmates.
Those professional correctional people with whom I've talked have told me, off the record, that they would suffer in their operation of the prisons if such items as TV sets were totally removed from the prison environment.
Why? Because to the prison's staff, such things are not luxuries but tools that help control the prison population. When prisoners behave as they're supposed to, they can be rewarded by having access to some things that can make prison life a little less harsh.
When prison inmates misbehave, they can be punished by having that access taken away from them. This tends to promote good behavior and the safety of guards and other prison workers.
That information puts the issue into a different perspective for me. …