TVs for inmates cost £8,000 a month
Providing televisions for prisoners in Maghaberry costs more than £8,000 a month, it has been revealed.
Northern Ireland`s main prison had the highest bill of all jails for the last 10 months, the Department of Justice said.
Democratic Unionist MLA Lord Maurice Morrow said the figures were staggering.
"There is a distinct culture of placation in existence in Northern Ireland prisons and I fail to see how this is doing anything to address offending behaviour, encourage rehabilitation or send any kind of positive message to victims," he said. "It's a disgrace."
From 2008 to last month the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) spent £356,181 on televisions for prisoners, with the largest expenditure in the financial year 2010/11 at £150,580. Almost a third of the cost was covered by the Prisoners Amenity Fund, which comes from tuck shop profits, recycling initiatives and prisoner television rental fees, the Justice Department said.
In less than 10 months up to 18 January this year Maghaberry spent £85,865 on televisions, an average of more than £8,000 per month. The total spend on prisons across that period was £106,789.
Lord Morrow claimed there was a practice of handing out televisions even if inmates destroyed their previous sets.
David Weir, a director at the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO), said relatives and children of inmates were keen to ensure they received sufficient stimulation.
"Where a person is spending a considerable number of hours in a cell alone, a television or some form of occupation is useful," he said. "It is a significant contributor to mental health."
A Prison Service spokesman said having access to a television was important in the daily lives of prisoners, many of whom are vulnerable and have mental health issues. "Part of the cost of acquiring televisions for prisoners is met by the prisoners themselves through rental charges and from tuck shop profits and recycling initiatives. Digital switchover also necessitated an increase in television purchases in the past year," he said.